The U.S. Maritime Administration has called it the "greatest rescue operation by a single ship in history." Chronicling the story for Aleteia, Larry Peterson recounts that it began on December 23, 1950, when Captain Leonard LaRue, skipper of the SS Meredith Victory, a US Merchant Marine cargo freighter, spotted thousands of Korean refugees on the docks of the besieged Port of Hungnam, North Korea, 135 miles into enemy territory. With the Chinese and North Korean communist forces closing in, Captain LaRue ordered his ship cleared of everything that could be moved, including all cargo and weapons. Then he loaded 14,000 refugees onto a ship that typically carried only 47 men.
They sailed south with no doctor, no heat, no sanitation facilities, no interpreter, no lighting in the holds, no mine detection equipment, and no weapons, save for the pistol carried by Captain LaRue. They arrived at the city of Busan, South Korea, on Christmas Eve only to be told there was no room for the refugees and they would have to continue on. LaRue managed to unload the wounded and a few women with infant children, and he collected water and blankets before heading on to Geoje Island, where they arrived to safety on Christmas Day.
Recalling the harrowing voyage, Captain LaRue later said, "I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God's own hand was at the helm of my ship."
The dramatic rescue operation had a profound influence on Captain LaRue, awakening him to the powerful hand of God at work in the world. In 1954, he decided to become a Benedictine monk, joining St. Paul's Abbey in Newton, New Jersey, where he took the name Brother Marinus, after the Latin word for "of the sea." He lived a life of work and prayer until his death in 2001. In 2019, Brother Marinus' cause for canonization was opened, and in June of this year, the U.S. bishops voted to advance his cause. Now we can call him Servant of God Marinus LaRue, and we can pray for his intercession in the hopes of achieving miracles so this holy servant might one day be recognized as a saint of the Church.
The story of Brother Marinus exemplifies how true greatness can only be achieved when we surrender to the will of God. Finding himself in command of one of the last ships in a port being abandoned by U.S. forces, he saw people in need and was called by God to act.
God calls us to act on behalf of those in need all the time. For Captain LaRue, that call came in the most dramatic of circumstances. But no matter the circumstances, our answer to God's call is always dramatic not just because it leads to great acts of mercy, but because it changes us from within, opening our hearts to the miraculous possibilities of following in the footsteps of Christ.
Leonard LaRue dumped cargo and weapons from his ship during wartime to make room for thousands of human lives. His answer to the situation before him was to value human life above all else. God responded to his courageous act by leading him and those in his care to safety, and by guiding him on a lifelong path to holiness.
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column by Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers' Board of Directors ; it is one of a series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current events.Background information: