December 11, 2012

A one-inch news brief [“Cadet to leave West Point because of focus on religion,” Politics & the Nation Digest, Dec. 6] brought to mind a vivid memory. My own act of conscience was neither as courageous nor as dramatic as Blake Page’s decision to leave the U.S. Military Academy less than six months before he was due to graduate.

As a young naval officer during the Korean War, I was ordered to temporary duty on the staff of the admiral overseeing the U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, whose flagship was based in Sasebo, Japan. When I reported aboard the flagship for the first time, I was taken to meet the admiral. We had a nice chat. I then sought out and introduced myself to the ship’s executive officer, a commander. We, too, had a nice chat. So far, so good.

At dinner that evening — with most of the ship’s officers arranged around the tables — the executive officer, who presided over the wardroom mess, introduced me and stated that, as a guest, I would have the “honor” of saying grace. My stomach did a flip. There was a brief silence as I caught my breath and finally said, “I respectfully decline, sir.” All eyes seemed to bore into me.

The executive officer, who outranked me by three pay grades, asked in an icy tone: “And why do you decline, mister?” Having been taught to tell the truth and that hypocrisy is a terrible thing with which to live, I said simply, “I’m a nonbeliever, sir, and don’t believe in prayer.” Mercifully, but with a scowl, he asked someone else to say grace. There was little conversation at dinner that evening.

Later, another officer stopped me in a passageway and whispered, “Hey, buddy, I’m with you!”

Edward Nanas, Gainesville