My mailbox held a pile of junk mail and bills. As usual.
But this time, it also held one special note. A card from my grandfather. The same one whom I’ve been telling everyone who will listen about…because he just turned 100.
Yes, he’s one hundred…That means he was born in 1917. When Woodrow Wilson was president. The year that the US declared war on Germany. When the average house was $3,200.
A lot of life has been lived since then; and it has had a lot of pretty remarkable moments.
Grandpa was the son of a poor immigrant, Henry Oestreich, who started out as a newspaper delivery boy, turned factory worker, turned dental salesman, turned dental instructor, turned dentist. He married in 1916 and my grandfather, George, came a long soon after followed by two girls.
His happy childhood memories included a dog named “Rags” who followed him home, and canoeing on the lake near the cabin his father built in the Catskills. As the sun would sink over the mountain, he would often sit on the porch and play “Taps.”
George was inspired to play the trumpet when he went with his father to Willow Grove and heard John Phillip Sousa lead the US Army Band in “Carnival of Venice.”
But life took a pretty drastic turn when his father died relatively suddenly George’s senior year of high school. The Great Depression hit soon after and the stock market crash took most of Henry’s investments in the building and loan with it. But a few of Henry’s friends from Wharton School of Business stepped in to help save some of his stock in AT&T, Dupont, and Philadelphia Electric so that they were able to keep the family home.
Geroge’s mother went to work and so did George. First at LD Caulk Dental Supply and eventually also taken classes at Wharton school of business.
It was around that rime that George really began to take his faith seriously, getting involved in “fishing club,” playing the trumpet and bringing friends to enjoy fellowship in the home of a local business man.
He soon transferred to Temple University–hitchhiking to school each morning and heading to work each night. It was not an easy road–even when he got a lift. The professors were not appreciative of his stand for his faith–one even failed him out of spite. During the summers, he still went to the Catskills and would work for the farmers milking cows and threshing wheat.
His final year of college he spent at Wheaton where he recalls doing Greek homework with Ruth Bell–A young missionary kid who would later marry a frequent chapel speaker name Billy Graham.
It was also there that he met Frances Mikels. But that part of the story was still long from being written…despite the long walks in the cornfields.
Dr Harry Ironside came to Wheaton and encouraged students to come to Dallas for seminary. George would soon find himself in Texas under the teaching of Dr. Ironside and Dr. Frances Schaeffer. He served as janitor to earn money and against the odds, resurrected a closed church in Grand Saline (home of Morton’s Salt Mines). There he would play trumpet while a young parishioner played the sax.
God would use two years pastoring this tiny church as the experience he would need to get a position as an army chaplain.
It was 1944. World War II was reaching its climax. After training, he would be board the Admiral Eberly and head to the Pacific Theater. His arrival in Manilla was timed just as General MacArthur was fulfilling his promise to take back the Philippines. He road a jeep up a bull dozed road through the mountains until the road gave up. Then he finished the hunt for the 25th Division alone and on foot.
By the time he found his troops, he was out of daylight to dig a meaningful foxhole. He would get his first introduction to the sounds of war in a shared foxhole with shrapnel falling around them. It was a long night.
After the war was officially over, George was sent to Japan with the occupation forces traveling through Wakeama to Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Shizuoka, and Gifu and finding divine opportunities to connect with Christians who, up to this time, had been in hiding for fear of severe persecution.
He keenly remembers one evening when he was walking by himself through a tangerine orchard and heard a hymn being sung. It led him to a house where he boldly knocked on the door. When the Japanese gentleman opened the door to see a US soldier, he quickly slammed it again. But George was nothing if not persistent. He kept knocking and perhaps it was the cross on his lapel that caught the eye of his new Japanese friend. George was invited in and took part of the family devotions…the family singing hymns in Japanese and George singing the same hymns in English.
When George left for his first furlough, his new friend came to the train station to say goodbye. George said, if I come back, what do you want me to bring you?
The elderly gentleman, living in a desolate country in a desperate time replied simply, “bring us the blessing of the gospel.”