The February Festivals of Hope in Saipan and Guam were personal for two members of the Tommy Coomes Band—which has played at BGEA events for decades—as well as for Franklin and Jane Austin Graham.
Jane Austin’s father, the late Ned Cunningham, served with the 2nd Marine Division, and was wounded during the Battle of Saipan on July 3, 1944. During a tour of the island, Jane and Franklin stood on the beach where Cunningham landed June 15, 1944, and placed a wreath in his honor and memory at the Court of Honor and Flag Circle. Jane received a medal commemorating her dad’s injury.
Tommy Coomes’ father, F.W. “Bill” Coomes, of the 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Division, was seriously wounded on the island of Guam in 1944. And the trajectory of life for band member Marsha Skidmore’s dad was forever changed in Guam during World War II. Not only was he wounded there, but he surrendered his life to Christ on the island.
Marsha and her four sisters heard the story from childhood all the way up to their father’s death in 2008.
Clyde Skidmore enlisted in the Marines in 1941, just as America was drawn into the war. He was in the 3rd Marine Division’s 21st Regiment Company K, and at age 23 was on the front lines of the battle when his company was ordered to Guam in July 1944.
“They were under enemy fire, and about an hour in, he was hit by an explosion,” Marsha said.
A piece of shrapnel went into his leg and severed a nerve, drawing his leg up so he couldn’t walk. His company had no choice but to leave him there as they kept going.
“It was a very critical moment for him,” Marsha said. “He had to lie there for a few hours and not move because there were snipers and enemy around.”
He could see the beach where the battle was being waged, and the ships out in the ocean, including the hospital ship.
In those fright-filled, uncertain moments, he turned his attention to the only One he knew could save him. “God, I don’t know if I’m going to make it off this island alive or dead,” he prayed, “but if You’ll get me off this island and give me a good wife, I’ll serve You the rest of my life. I give You my life, if I live or if I die. I’ll go anywhere You want me to go.”
Unbeknownst to Skidmore, when his best friend Bill Moreau had gotten to a secure area with the rest of his company, he told his commanding officer, “I’m going back for Skidmore.”
“You’ll be killed,” his officer warned.
“I’m going back,” Moreau said.
Under enemy fire, Moreau made his way back and found Skidmore still lying in the same spot. He helped carry his friend down to the beach where he received medical help.
“Dad could never tell that part of the story without tearing up,” Marsha said. “Bill was such a hero to him. Dad ended up on that hospital ship, and from there wound up in Honolulu for three or four months recovering from his injury. He carried that shrapnel, at least part of it, around all of his life.”
Skidmore finished his service and returned to his home state of Texas and started dating a young woman named Marjorie Lee Skeen. They knew each other from earlier years and had gone out once before Skidmore’s military stint. They wrote to each other regularly during the war.
“I don’t know if he had anyone in mind when he prayed, ‘If You’ll give me a wife,’ but I know he was writing a lot of letters to my mom,” Marsha said, “so I have a feeling that he thought she may be a possibility.”
Marjorie was a believer and had prayed continually for Skidmore during his years in the Marines. The two were married May 4, 1946.
Skidmore worked for Shell Oil for a while, and then God began to tug at his heart about that promise he made lying on the beach in Guam. True to his word, he left his job at Shell and enrolled in Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Upon completion, he planned to go to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, until he heard about the need for pastors in California. He remembered his specific words to God that day on the beach.
“I’ll go anywhere You want me to go, Lord.”
He and Marjorie packed up their three daughters and left everything and everyone they knew in Texas to move to California, where Skidmore would attend Golden Gate Seminary and look for a pastor’s job. It was a step of faith.
“He’d been told that churches wouldn’t hire students from the seminary as pastors,” Marsha said. But within weeks, he was called to pastor a church in Concord, California, where Marsha was born.
Skidmore pastored California churches for more than 50 years. But he was more than a pastor. He was an evangelist, sharing his faith with everyone he met.
“He never met a stranger he didn’t share Christ with,” Marsha said. “You could not get away from him before he shared the Gospel. He’d pick up hitchhikers and he’d find switchblades in the back seat of his car after he led them to the Lord and dropped them off to where they wanted to go.”
Skidmore was able to return to Guam twice before his death—once as a gift from his family and church for his 70th birthday, which coincided with his 40th anniversary as a pastor and his and Marjorie’s 45th wedding anniversary—and once when Guam officials invited him back for the 50th anniversary of Guam’s liberation.
On his first trip, then-governor Joseph F. Ada gave him a personal tour of the island. And Ada, still beloved on the island, gave Marsha a tour and lunch on the Saturday before the Guam Festival on Sunday night.
“It’s very meaningful to me that I got to stand on the ground where my father surrendered and shed blood,” she said. “The whole thing is a picture of what Jesus did for all of us, in shedding His blood and carrying us through enemy fire and liberating us.”
Coomes was able to go along on the tour as well, to see where his father was wounded.
As Marsha watched people come forward to make a decision for Christ at the Sunday night Guåhan Festival of Hope, she knew her father’s last prayer was being answered.
Skidmore, a sufferer of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, was asked by a nurse one night near the end of his life if he would like to say a prayer before being put to bed. His answer was a few mumbled words that were not easy to follow.
“What did you say?” the nurse asked.
These five words came from his lips, much more audibly this time.
“Let the lost be found.”
Hundreds of people responded to the invitations to be found by Christ at the Guam and Saipan Festivals of Hope Feb. 21 and 23.
Photo: Ron Nickel/©2020 BGEA