Ping Pong with the Priest

The outer door of my office building opened, then slammed shut, followed by the sound of boots clomping down the hall, until they stopped at my door. I looked up to see Father Wlad dressed in camouflaged cargo-pocket shorts that reached below his knees, a faded pink-and-green floral buttoned shirt, greenish-brown combat boots that had seen better days, and thick, dark green, used-to-be-knee-high socks that had lost all elasticity so that they drooped down to the tops of his boots. His left hand held a table tennis racket. I burst out laughing at the apparition that filled the doorway.

“Want to play ping pong?” the priest asked.

“I’d love to,” I managed to say, mentally rescheduling the tasks on my to-do list. I had been praying about Father Wlad the past few days, hoping for an opportunity to spend some time with him. He was faithful in his ministry as a Roman Catholic priest, conducting daily mass and confession, yet I sensed he needed a friend, just like I did.

We chatted as we walked over to the MWR, which was a combination gym and entertainment facility. The bottom level had weight machines and free weights. There were treadmills, stair climbers, ellipticals, and stationary bikes. The floor was concrete, and one side had a large, bright blue mat for floor exercises. Upstairs were pool tables, a stereo, books and magazines, card tables, sofas, and a humongous internal-projection big screen TV. In the center of the large, open, linoleum-covered area was a brand new, heavy-duty ping pong table. Father Wlad had planned this ambush, and had asked the MWR staff to reserve the table for our use.

“You never told me you play table tennis,” I scolded.

“Table tennis is big in Europe. Everybody plays.”

“Do you have a table in your parish hall in Poland?” I asked.

“Of course.” It was like he was saying, “Silly American. Don’t you know anything?”

Had I known there was to be a table tennis match today, I would have dressed for the occasion. I would love to have changed into my PT clothes. Instead, I was wearing my Army Combat Uniform with boots. What I wanted most was to be wearing athletic shoes.

Not having the right clothing wasn’t my only worry, though. Europeans don’t consider table tennis to be a casual game; it’s a serious sport. Father Wlad had brought his personal racket when he came to Iraq. I had to use whatever the MWR happened to have on hand, which wasn’t as good as the equipment I used at home. Not only that, Wlad was left-handed, which presented a different set of dynamics to the game. This could get ugly.

We took about ten minutes to warm up, batting the ball back and forth to get a feel for each other’s style of play. News spread quickly that the two chaplains were playing ping pong: Catholic versus Protestant, Polish versus American, Lefty versus Righty. By the time we began the first game, an audience of about twenty-five people had gathered to witness this international, interdenominational slugfest. They shouted, egged us on, and groaned or cheered with every shot and every miss.

The first player to 21 wins, but he has to win by at least two points. Father Wlad won the first game with a score of 21–10. It took me that long to figure him out—and to remember the coaching I had received as an 18-year-old freshman at San Diego State. An encounter with my cousin, Elmer, flashed into my mind.

Elmer, who was eight years older than I, invited me to have dinner with him and his wife, and while we were eating, he asked, “Do you play ping pong?”

“Sure.”

“Are you any good?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty good. Why?”

“Well, I just bought a new ping pong table, but I’ve never played. S’pose you could teach me? Maybe show me a few things after dinner?”

“Sure. I’d be glad to.”

After eating, we went out to the garage. I should have known as soon as we walked in that I was being set up. Brand new table, prominently placed in the center of the room. A rack on the wall held ping pong balls and paddles. Chairs for spectators along each side.

“Pick any paddle you want,” Elmer graciously offered. Then he pulled a case from the shelf and took out his personal racket that nobody else was allowed to use . . . or touch . . . ever!

“So, how do you play this game?’ he asked.

After I gave a few of the basics, we got started. We played ten games, and I never scored a point. He skunked me ten times in a row, right after I told him I was pretty good.

“OK, cousin. I know two things about you. You’re a great ping pong player and a good liar.”

After he stopped laughing, he said, “Don’t ever call it ping pong, Son. It’s table tennis. And this is not a paddle, it’s a racket.”

“OK. Where did you learn to play . . . table tennis?”

“I played in the Army, competed in the Servicemen’s Table Tennis Tournament in Germany several years, and even won the thing once.”

My cousin was a champion–a champion who apparently delighted in taking advantage of his naïve, overconfident, younger cousin. I learned later that he enjoyed pulling this prank on many of his friends.

“So Elmer, s’pose you could teach me? Maybe show me a few things?”

“Sure. I’d be glad to.”

During the next few months, he taught me how to play the game: the rules, the etiquette, technique, how to return spin with spin, keep the ball rotating the same direction, unless, of course, you decide to override the rotation of the ball with power. Never touch the table. How to serve. The thickness of the rubber on the racket. The guy knew the game inside and out, and under his tutelage, I became a much better player.

As Father Wlad started serving game two, suddenly, his serve, his spin, and his leftiness were not insurmountable. I won the second game 21–18. I also won games three, four, and five—each game by two or three points. The final game was long, going back and forth, neither of us able to get a 2-point lead for the victory until finally I beat him 32–30. We were exhausted. The Polish Catholic priest took the first game by 11 points. The American Protestant pastor took the next four games by a combined total of 10 points. So, he had more points, but I had more games. The fans cheered for both of us.

“Let’s go back to my place for drinks,” my opponent suggested.

“Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon in Iraq,” I replied.” Then, thinking that he might only have beer, I asked, “Do you have any soft drinks?”

“Come. I will take care of you.”

The Polish soldiers had built the chapel for Catholic mass and confession, but off to one side of the wooden structure, they added a large office and Father Wlad’s living quarters. While I lived in an aluminum can, my compadre had a 600-square-foot, two-room apartment, complete with running water and a refrigerator. They knew how to take care of their priest.

Wlad went straight to the fridge, pulled out a beer for himself and a Diet Dr Pepper for me, smiling as he handed it to me. “See. I told you I take care of you.”

I was impressed. Father Wlad had taken time to plan this day. The little store at Camp Echo didn’t have my favorite drink very often. I had asked the manager if he’d order some Diet Dr Pepper once in a while, and he agreed. Whenever it was in stock, I bought a 12-pack or two. Wlad had gone over to the shop a week earlier to pick some up, knowing that’s what I liked. He lit a cigarette, put his feet up, and we spent the afternoon talking like old friends getting together for drinks at a roadside café somewhere in Europe.

(This story is excerpted from chapter 12 of my book, Safest Place in Iraq.)

Unity in Marriage

IN 2019 I wrote a book on marriage called WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage. The book presents twelve principles that when lived day by day can revolutionize any relationship.

A few months after the book came out, I was interviewed by Chris Johnson at Charisma Magazine HQ in Lake Mary, FL. If you’d like to hear the podcast of the conversation, click on Charisma Podcast. Then if you want to get the book, click on the picture of the book above. You are welcome to contact me through the Contact page.

80th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2021 is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched the United States into World War II. The Battle of Midway was the greatest naval battle ever fought. Three enemy aircraft carriers were bombed into blazing infernos in six minutes, burning and drowning 1,800 seamen. A fourth carrier sank with a loss of 700 men.

USS Yorktown, with a ship’s crew of just over 2,200 sailors and about 300 aviators, received three bomb hits and two torpedoes when Captain Elliott Buckmaster ordered, “Abandon ship.” 400 men were dead. 2,000 sailors went down the lines into the murky, oily waters of the Pacific.

This book tells the story in light of faith, prayer, and the God who was personally involved in the men’s lives. The author conducted Bible studies in the ship. In answer to the prayers of those men and their loved ones, many of the sailors accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. There were miraculous rescues from bomb bursts and fragmented steel, as Navy destroyers pulled blue jackets from the sea. Barefoot men clad only in their underwear knelt on the deck of a destroyer and offered thanks to Almighty God for his mercy and salvation. A true life story of God’s presence in a battle at sea.

Dead in the Water is the story about a man who was faithful to God during the toughest days of his life, and the God who was faithful to that man. It provides a glimpse of divine intervention in the lives of men who were far from home, providing hope and comfort in an otherwise bleak situation. At the same time, it tells of some fantastic answers to prayer, as well as some devastating tragedy.

Stan “Deacon” Linzey was a ship’s telephone operator aboard the USS Yorktown when it engaged in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway. He was also a clarinetist in the Navy Band. When the order came to abandon ship, he scooted to the edge of the deck, lowered himself into the ocean hoping there were no sharks nearby, and treaded water until a U.S. ship came to the rescue.

After the war, Linzey went to college and seminary, and then returned to the Navy as a chaplain, serving another twenty years. He wrote this book, and several others, after retiring from the Navy in 1974.

Linzey’s first son, Stanford Eugene Linzey III, goes by the name of Eugene, and is an award-winning journalist and an author of several books. After his father died, Eugene became the chaplain of the Yorktown Reunion Club, a role Stan had filled until his death at age eighty-nine.

Paul Linzey is the third son. He is a retired Army chaplain, and at the time of this writing, is serving as the Protestant pastor at the United States Naval Academy. He is an award-winning author of several books, and is a regular contributor of devotional articles for CBN.org.

One of the reviews:

“USS Yorktown at Midway is a remarkably intriguing and compelling account of the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway as seen through the Christian eyes of the Lord’s servant, Captain Stanford E. Linzey, CHC, USN (Ret.). Dr. Linzey allows the reader to easily understand and visualize not only the tragedies of combat, but also the human and spiritual elements of surviving the harrowing and horrifying disasters of naval warfare.”

This is a reprint of a book originally published with the title, “God Was at Midway.” It has a new introduction by S. Eugene Linzey III and a new afterword by Paul E. Linzey. The book can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.

Looking Through the Rearview Mirror

I was flipping through the topic cards of a new trivia game when an idea splashed into my mind: what if my brothers and sisters and I were to use these as writing prompts for a family memoir? That could be a lot of fun and elicit some great memories. Our parents, a sister, and a brother had already passed away, and the remaining siblings lived in various places around the country. Maybe doing a project like this could bring a sense of togetherness and closeness. The concept was to send out one writing prompt per week via email, and then the siblings would write their memories and send them to me.

We started learning about one another and seeing each other in a whole new light, and the conversations that occurred every week became highly therapeutic for us. We accepted one another, and in the process, learned to love each other more deeply than any of us had ever experienced in our family.

Each week, we selected a new writing prompt. Everyone had a week to write up a memory or a personal experience that related in some way to the topic. And then we sent the stories to everyone. My original intent was not to share the stories with everyone until the end of the year. But the group decision to share with everyone right from the start is what made this endeavor the overwhelming success that it turned into. We bonded. We laughed. We cried. We identified with one another. We encouraged each other. We felt each other’s pain, sorrow, stress, and heartbreak. And we celebrated each other’s successes and victories. In essence, we created a safe environment and showed each other the beauty and wholeness of being vulnerable and trusting in an accepting relationship.

The results of this endeavor were fantastic. For the first time in our lives, we’re not divided into the upper half and the lower half. There’s no superiority or inferiority. We all have equal standing in this loving family. And it feels good. We created a priceless collection of family history that our grandkids and great grandkids might otherwise have never known. More importantly, we have grown and deepened as individuals and as a family.

Whether you are a family member, a distant relative, a neighbor, friend, or even a complete stranger, we invite you to join us on this journey as we share our lives with you. We hope you enjoy the stories. Welcome to the family.

The book may be purchased at https://paullinzey.com/books/

or from Amazon.

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