Born: Coal Country in Pennsylvania in 1924
Prison to Praise autobiography
Became a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol, author, lecturer, Methodist Pastor and evangelist.
Years Ordained: 40
"I'd been a pretty independent fellow from the time I was twelve. That's when my father died suddenly, leaving my mother alone with three boys to raise. My brothers were seven and one, and Mother started taking in washing and went on relief to keep us alive. She always talked about Dad being in Heaven and how God would take care of us, but with the intensity of a twelve-year-old I turned in fury against a God who could treat us that way." Merlin enlisted in the Army on 20 October 1943 at Pittsburgh, PA, volunteered for parachutist duty at Fort Benning, Georgia, and fought overseas with an unknown parachute infantry unit, perhaps the 507th. Before going overseas, he spent four months in a stockade in Georgia and in Pittsburgh, after going AWOL.I wasn't going to sit around doing nothing, and with a friend, I decided to go over the hill. We simply walked out of the camp one day, stole a car, and headed for anyplace. Just in case someone was looking for us, we dropped the first car and stole another and finally ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There we ran out of spending money and decided to pull a stickup. I had the gun and my friend waited in the car.
We'd picked a store that looked like an easy job. My plan was to pull the telephone wiring so they couldn't call the police. Inside the store, I yanked on the telephone wire as hard as I could, but it wouldn't budge. I was frustrated. The gun was in my pocket, the cash register was full of money, but the line to the police was still there. I wasn't about to invite disaster. So I went back to the car to tell my buddy, and we were just sitting there in the back seat, eating green apples and talking, when the long arm of the law finally caught up with us. We didn't know it, but a six-state alarm had gone out for us, and the FBI was hot on our heels.
Sentenced to six months in the stockade, he served a few months then was sent by the FBI to Pittsburgh where a stern judge read the charges and asked: "Guilty or not guilty; how do you plead?"
"Guilty, Sir." I had been caught red-handed and I determined it would be the last time. I would learn the tricks and play it safe from now on.
The district attorney carefully explained my past life to the judge, who asked the investigating officers for their recommendation.
"Your honor, we recommend leniency."
"What do you want, soldier?" the judge asked me.
"I want to go back in the Army and get into the war," was all I could say.
"I sentence you to five years in the Federal Penitentiary."
His words hit me like a load of bricks from the skies. I was nineteen and would be twenty-four when I got out. I saw my whole life go down the drain.
"Your sentence is temporarily suspended and you will be returned to the Army."
Saved, thank heaven! In less than an hour I was released. But first the district attorney gave me a stern lecture and explained that if I left the Army in less than five years I should report back to his office.He had completed four months of that original AWOL six months sentence, so then, after a couple more months in the stockade, he was put on a ship sailing to England late in 1944. Caught a train to the English Channel, and crossed over to France. Caught another train, and arrived in Belgium on 23 January. It was at the close of Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945). He is listed as serving in the 82nd Airborne during three major campaigns of World War II. On 15 February 1945 he was transferred to Company A 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Went with them to Frankfurt Germany, where he was selected to serve as guard for General of the Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In mid to late 1945, Merlin Carothers set up his own "clerical" company and made vast sums of money on the black market via cigarettes, military money, money orders, and "finance" cards.In Frankfurt I had plenty of free time. My idea of a good time usually involved a considerable amount of drinking. I often drank myself into a state of oblivion and other soldiers told me what pranks I had pulled in town the night before.
I discovered that black marketeering was a quicker and more reliable source of income than gambling. I bought cigarettes from other soldiers for ten dollars a carton. With a suitcase full, I went to the black-market area in town where I could sell the cartons for one hundred dollars apiece. The black-market area was a frequent site of robberies, beatings, and murder, but I didn't care. I kept one hand on a loaded, cocked .45 in my pocket.
Soon I had a suitcase full of ten dollar bills in military money known as scrip. The only problem was to find a way to get the money back to the United States. Tight control limited each soldier to sending home only the amount he was paid by the Army. I stayed awake nights trying to figure a way to beat the system.
At the post office I watched the men line up to convert their monthly pay into money orders. Each man had to have his "finance" card, which listed the exact amount he had been paid. I observed one man with a pile of finance cards, a bag of money, and an armed guard. He was company clerk and was getting money orders for his entire company. I suddenly realized that all I needed was a pile of finance cards!
I located the unit finance clerk and soon learned that he would be willing to provide me with the finance cards for five dollars apiece. I was in business. I set myself up as the company clerk of my own private company. With the money and the finance cards I went to the post office and had the money orders made out without a hitch!
With this setup I now found new ways to accumulate money. I learned that men coming from Berlin would give $1,000 in scrip for a $100 money order. I gladly obliged and then converted the $900 into my own money order. I was on my way to becoming very rich! Then came exciting news. My time to return to the U.S. had arrived! Early in 1946, I packed my suitcase full of $100 money orders and headed for the glorious shores of home.On 27 May 1946 Pfc (Private First Class) Carothers was discharged from the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Was I losing my marbles? A posthumous interview with Merlin Carothers By Joseph O'Brien, July 3, 2018 San Diego Reader Ed. Note: The late Merlin Carothers and his autobiography Prison to Praise are well-known throughout the Christian community. Having sold over 19,000,000 copies of his 18 books (each translated into 59 foreign languages), Carothers is the first author to have three books listed simultaneously as top ten-bestsellers on the National Christian Bookseller Association's list. His responses to this week's Sheep and Goats interview are excerpts from Prison to Praise unless otherwise indicated. MC: "One Sunday evening shortly after getting back from Germany [at the end of World War II], I went to see Grandmother and Grandfather. I quickly realized I'd made a mistake. They were getting ready to go to church … .It was getting close to church time, and I couldn't say to my grandparents: 'I just don't want to go.' At the zero hour I had no choice. Off we went together. The church service was held in a barn, but everyone there seemed happy. Poor people, I thought, they don't know anything about real life out there in the world, or they wouldn't waste an evening in a barn. The singing began and I picked up a hymn book to follow the words. At least I had to look as if I was with it. Suddenly I heard a deep voice speak directly to my ear. 'What-what did you say?' I whirled around to find no one behind me. There was the voice again: 'Tonight you must make a decision for Me. If you don't, it will be too late … .' Was I losing my marbles? But the voice was real. It was God, and He knew me! In a flash I suddenly saw it … . God was real; He was the answer. In Him was everything I had ever searched for." He now confessed to his black-marketeering to the US Treasury and handed over the money to their Conscience Fund, having flushed uncashed money-orders down the toilet. And he also received a pardon, due to an excellent combat record, for the three years still to be served on his sentence. SDR: "Why did you become a minister?" MC: "It seemed that God had His plans for me all set. I couldn't sleep nights, and the longer I thought and prayed, the more exciting the whole idea became. If God could make a preacher out of an ex-jailbird, paratrooper, gambler, and black-marketeer, that would be a greater adventure into the unknown than anything I'd every tried before." In the latter half of 1946 he enrolled in college (Marion College, Marion, Indiana) for 2½ years and then Ashbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky for 2 years. Then as a newly ordained minister he was sent for a year or so to a Methodist church in Claypool Indiana. In 1953, he rejoined the army and after a 3 months course was commissioned as a U.S. Army Chaplain at Fort Campbell Kentucky. As part of his service in the next ten years was time in Korea where, following an accident with his glasses, his eye was damaged and then miraculously healed. He returned to the U.S.A. in 1963 and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1964. At this time he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He also became a Master Parachutist (90 jumps). From Fort Bragg he was sent to the Dominican Republic (1965), and then to Vietnam for one year (1966). In 1967 he was sent to Fort Benning Georgia. He married Mary (born in 1932, and is still alive) in 1970, the same year as Prison to Praise was published. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel Chaplain in California in 1971. The work of the Foundation of Praise was conducted in the garage of Merlin and Mary's home in Escondido, California until a new church was completed in 1972. Merlin and Mary followed up Prison to Praise with Power in Praise that year, along with Answers to Praise. Published by Logos International. Sales for his books was huge. In 1976, another church was established in Escondido, and again the Foundation of Praise worked within the church. By 1980, requests for free books for prisoners, military personnel and patients had skyrocketed. Letters asking for spiritual help and prayer flooded our mail room. The Foundation moved to larger offices and attempted to keep up with the increasing number of letters and requests. Books were stored in warehouses scattered throughout Escondido. This proved to be a disastrous temporary solution. Not only was it difficult to keep an accurate inventory, but the facilities baked in the heat and leaked water when it rained! Some books were ruined. Then in 1984, a marvelous thing happened, we were able to build a new building! It was designed so that all our work would be accomplished as quickly and economically as possible. Daily, vehicles back up to our warehouse and load books going to all parts of the United States, and throughout the world. End of biography.
SDR: "Where do you go when you die?"
MC: "Satan wants to lure into sin every person created in God's image and then see them eternally separated from Him. But God has His own plan. He wants to prepare us for an eternity with Him and will allow anything that He knows will help us reach that goal. [from June 2006 message]."
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