By Sandra Hinson
July 14, 1975 12:00 PM

Rocket genius Dr. Wernher von Braun is still stunned as he recalls that day: his friend and former commander, Maj. Gen. John B. Medaris, then four years retired, strode into Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, the Army’s guided missile headquarters. Standing erectly before Von Braun’s desk, he asked the scientist if he would be one of his pallbearers.

Von Braun knew that Medaris had undergone surgery for prostate cancer two years before they masterminded the launching of the first U.S. earth satellite in 1958. But he was chilled to hear the general say that the doctors had discovered bone cancer, and he had perhaps 18 months to live. That was in 1964.

Today, at 73, Medaris is alive, seemingly in perfect health, a resident with his wife, Ginny, of Orlando, Fla. The former chief of the Army’s missile and space programs has complemented his trademark mustache with a close-cropped beard. His carriage remains straight-backed and militarily correct. But the general has swapped his swagger stick for the cross of an ordained Episcopal priest. (Army cronies were astonished when news of the old soldier’s ordination in 1970 reached them.) Moreover, because he attributes his own miraculous recovery from cancer in 1965 to God’s intercession, Father Bruce, as he is now called, has become a believer and practitioner of faith healing—and claims some cures.

As associate rector of Maitland, Fla.’s Church of the Good Shepherd (from which the military pensioner draws no salary), the Reverend Medaris undertakes a full range of demanding spiritual duties. In addition to saying mass and conducting Sunday Bible class and healing services, he is chaplain to the clergy of the diocese. Around the clock, he heeds emergency calls from the sick, the confused and the heartbroken. At least one afternoon a week he visits patients in the area’s seven hospitals.

Father Bruce’s religious convictions antedate his retirement from the Army. During the frantic pace of the early space program, when the U.S. was trying to put a satellite into orbit after the Russian’s Sputnik I, Medaris regularly sought loftier counsel than his scientists could give. “No human being without the guidance of the Lord could have been right as much as I was,” insists Medaris of the million-dollar decisions he had to make.

Raised despite his objections as a strict Methodist by his divorced mother in Springfield, Ohio, Medaris joined the Marines at 16—a few months too late to see action in World War I. After alternating between military and civilian life—and divorcing his first wife—he discovered the Anglican faith while serving as an ordnance officer plotting the invasion of Europe from England in 1943.

The testing of his commitment in the face of death from cancer resolved itself when he realized that “it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to me whether I lived or died. I knew the Lord had me in his hands.” This is the message Father Bruce believes he must communicate to the ailing before faith can begin to heal their bodies.

His ministry has also embraced exorcism, which Medaris says he stumbled into. “One night,” he recalls, “the Lord served me up a girl who was catatonically possessed. I sweated with her for about 30 minutes trying to get that monkey out of her. All of a sudden, a man sitting on a stool beside her fell over backwards. He later said he felt a blast of wind go right over his shoulder. Every muscle in the girl let go and she started murmuring the name of Jesus. It is what I had been calling on her to say.”