by the cloud
January as told to Judy Doyle
It was a clear, sunny morning in
early March 1945. I was 24 years old and a member of the U.S. Army’s
35th Infantry Division, 137th Infantry, Company I. Along with several other
companies of American troops, we were making our way through dense woods in
the German Rhineland. Our objective was to reach and take the town of Ossenburg,
where a factory was producing war materials.
For hours we pressed through an
unrelenting thicket. Shortly after midday word was passed that there was a
clearing ahead. At last, we thought, the going would be easier. But then we
approached a large stone house, behind which huddled a handful of wounded,
bleeding soldiers who had tried to cross the clearing and failed.
Before us stretched at least 200
yards of open ground — bordered on the far side by more thick woods.
As the first of us appeared on the edge of the clearing a machine gun came
alive and a volley of bullets sent soil spinning as far as we could see. Three
nests of German machine guns, spaced 50 yards apart and protected by the crest
of a small hill to the left, were firing at the field. As we got our bearings
it was determined the machine guns were so well placed that our weapons couldn’t
To cross that field meant suicide.
Yet we had no choice. The Germans had blockaded every other route into the
town. In order to move on and secure a victory, we had to move forward.
I slumped against a tree, appalled
at the grim situation. I thought of home, of my wife and my 5-month-old son.
I had kissed him good-bye just after he was born. I thought I might never
see my family again, and the possibility was overwhelming.
I dropped to my knees. “God,”
I pleaded, “You’ve got to do something. Please do something.”
Moments later the order was given
to advance. Grasping my M-1 rifle, I got to my feet and started forward. After
reaching the edge of the clearing I took a deep breath. But just before I
stepped out from cover, I glanced to the left.
I stopped and stared in amazement.
A white cloud — a long, fluffy white cloud — had appeared out
of nowhere. It dropped from over the trees and covered the area. The Germans’
line of fire was obscured by the thick foggy mist.
All of us bolted into the clearing
and raced for our lives. The only sounds were of combat boots thudding against
the soft earth as men dashed into the clearing, scrambling to reach the safety
of the other side before the mist lifted. With each step the woods opposite
came closer and closer. I was almost across! My pulse pounding in my ears,
I lunged into the thicket and threw myself behind a tree.
I turned and watched as other soldiers
following me dove frantically into the woods, some carrying and dragging the
wounded. This has to be God’s doing,
I thought. I’m going to see what happens now.
The instant the last man reached
safety, the cloud vanished! The day was again clear and bright. I couldn’t
The enemy, apparently thinking
we were still pinned down behind the stone house on the other side, must have
radioed their artillery. Minutes later the building was blown to bits. But
our company was safe and we quickly moved on.
We reached Ossenburg and went on
to secure more area for the Allies. But the image of that cloud was never
far from my mind. I had seen the sort of smoke screens that were sometimes
set off to obscure troop activity in such a situation. But this cloud had
been different from any smoke screen. It had appeared out of nowhere and saved
Two weeks later, as we bivouacked
in eastern Germany, a letter arrived from my mother back in Dallas. I tore
open the envelope eagerly. The letter contained words that sent a shiver down
my spine. “You remember Mrs. Tankersly from our church?” my mother
Who could forget her? I smiled.
“Mrs. Tankersly telephoned me one morning from the defense plant where
she works. She said the Lord had awakened her the night before at one o’clock
and told her, ‘Spencer January is in serious trouble. Get up now and
pray for him!’ ”
My mother went on to explain that
Mrs. Tankersly had interceded for me in prayer until six o’clock
the next morning, when she had to go to her job. “She told
me the last thing she prayed before getting off her knees was
this … ‘Lord, whatever danger Spencer is in, just
cover him with a cloud!’
I caught my breath and sat there
for a long time holding the letter in my trembling hands. My mind
raced, quickly calculating. Yes, the hours Mrs. Tankersly was
praying would have indeed corresponded to the time we were approaching
the clearing. And 6 a.m.? With a seven-hour time difference, her
prayer for a cloud would have been uttered at one o’clock
— just the time Company I was getting ready to make its
From that moment on, I intensified
my prayer life. For the past 60 years I have gotten up early every
morning to pray for others. I am convinced there is no substitute
for the power of prayer and its ability to comfort and sustain,
even those facing the valley of the shadow of death.
January lives in DeSoto, Texas, and attends Oak Cliff Assembly
of God in Dallas. Judy Doyle is a professor at Southwestern Assemblies
of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.
E-mail your comments to email@example.com.