This is a question that has plagued me much of my adult life. I consider it a great loss that I never went into the military. This, especially because when I was 12 years old, that’s all I wanted to do was to go to West Point and be a tank commander like General Patton, or Field Marshal Rommel (both WWII generals, one American and one German). I used to think that was the coolest stuff there was, and I dreamed about becoming an officer to lead men on the field of battle. Of course, I went through the kid phase too, where I built model tanks and airplanes, and I’d make these huge setups in my backyard, on one side the Allies facing the Germans on the other, and then I’d blow them up with firecrackers. Silly, I know, but that’s what boys do.
My father was in the military, and his father before him, so there was military history in the family. My daddy actually went into the Navy when he was still 16 – if my brother’s records are accurate. Dad went down to the South Pacific and flew as a radio operator on a PBY (that’s a flying boat). They flew on long patrols, often boring and routine, but sometimes filled with 5 minutes of excitement (terror) too. He said they were shot down on their last mission and he was the only one wounded when they “crash landed” in the ocean. A flying boat is designed for landing on water, so they must have hit just a little harder without power or something like that. Anyhow, my dad said he learned to fly in that PBY because being so close to the cockpit (the radio compartment is just behind the cockpit) it was quite natural for them to train him to be a backup pilot, so that, apparently, is where he got the “bug” for flying.
Dad, following that tour in the South Pacific entered the Cadet Corps, to learn how to fly in the Navy. That’s where he was when the war ended I gathered, so after WWII he enlisted in the Army Air Corps to continue his flying career. At that time he learned multi-engine flying, and started flying bombers, actually anything that had wings. He was flying for the Army in 1947 when the Air Force was formed, and he soon became part of the Air Force as well. Not too many folks out there served in 3 different branches of service, so my dad was kind of unique in that respect. His accomplishments for flying included a Distinguished Flying Cross, among others. He used to talk about the survival school he went on some winter up in N. Dakota. Pretty rugged that was I gathered.
Anyhow, like I said, as a kid, I wanted nothing more than to become a soldier. That was my dream. Then, along came High School, parties, drinking, drugs, girls, etc… I tell folks that my dreams evaporated in a cloud of smoke: Pot smoke if you want to look at it that way. Pretty soon, nothing else mattered to me, except drinking, partying, girls and drugs, especially smoking lots of dope. I hung out with my best friend for the last 2 years of High School, it was Joe, and me, and a couple other fellows from our Water Polo team who used to hang out and smoke incredible amounts of pot together. These days I tell kids, pot is EXTREMELY addictive, I know! It makes it so that all you want to do is smoke more dope! You begin to think there’s nothing “cooler” in life than sitting around getting stoned, when the reality is, there’s nothing dumber!
I was such a waste case, and I ruined so much of my brain, and I ruined my dreams and hopes for life. Still, what Satan meant for evil, God has used for good in my life. If my life had not been such a train wreck, I never would have gotten sober and found out there is a God in this life. My folks, God bless them both, did not raise my sister and I with any church. We were not “left on our own” rather, my daddy wanted to raise us as intellectuals. He drilled us as small kids in math and science, and he thought that if flying were a good enough career for him, then it could teach us how we could “rise above” and be just like him I guess. Dad never graduated high school you see, but he used to brag (constantly) that he made more money than 99.9% of the people in this world. Great, but, what does that mean to a 5 year old? Not much!
I never knew I was spoiled as a kid, I only knew that it was easy to get what I wanted. I never knew there were people who were “hungry” or starving in this world, because in the first place, I never saw it, and in the second place, I was never hungry so I could not relate to that situation at all! I never saw any “desperate” situations where anybody was doing something stupid because they had been driven to the point of that was the only thing they felt they could do. On the other hand, I did see my folks drink a lot, and argue and so forth, that seemed more “normal” to me. My best friend in grade school told me I was spoiled and I told him “No I’m NOT!” Are you kidding? I had no idea what spoiled was! Today, of course, I do know what spoiled is, and I was.
But, to get back to my original question: Am I a brave man? I started writing this narrative out because I simply have never had the opportunity of finding out. I was derailed from my original plan in this life, therefore I never got a chance to go into battle to find out. We just celebrated Memorial Day yesterday, and we honored those fallen in battle. It makes me wonder – would I have had the fortitude to stand up and charge a machine gun nest with only a rifle and hand grenades? A Medal of Honor winner died this past week, and that’s what he did on Christmas day 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. My daddy flew in a plane in combat at the age of 17 (he would have been 17 after his training before he ever went into combat) and faced the enemy. The protection from machine gun bullets in a PBY is so scant as to be non-existent, so essentially you’re facing bullets “naked!” Would I have had that kind of guts?
What is that kind of bravery all about anyway? Men who have survived battle will tell you they just did what had to be done. Especially Medal of Honor winners, to a man almost, they always say “Someone had to do something, I just got mad,” or “It just had to be done.” Amazing, isn’t it? But to sit there and hear the shells falling around you, and the bullets whizzing over your head, could I have even taken that? That’s what I wonder.
I’ve heard bullets whiz over my head twice. One time I was riding my horse with this gal, and she and I passed some guys drinking beer and shooting their .22 rifles. When we were about 1/4 mile away from them with our backs to them, they thought it would be funny to lob a couple rounds over our head. Funny, gads, my horse nearly had a heart attack! I cursed and swore at those drunken fools. There’s no mistaking the sound of a bullet whizzing by you though. I heard it again a few years ago, up on a mountain road in Colorado. My wife and I stopped to take some pictures, got out and some fools started shooting over our heads. I cursed and swore at them for being so stupid and ruining the forest for their own amusement!
Bravery, that is not. I was mad then. The fools shooting their guns were stupid. But a couple other occasions are worth mentioning, I saved one person from drowning in the ocean, and another fellow who was caught in a rip-tide. I swam out to that fellow and told him that he was in a rip current, and he got himself out and swam to shore just fine. Was that “bravery” or did I just do it because I was strong and I could? I was trained as a lifeguard, I had life-saving training pretty early on because I was a strong swimmer. The fellow who nearly drowned though was a guest on my daddy’s boat, for a day cruise. He was older, maybe 60, and he swam a long distance with levi’s jeans on. That was just silly I told him, I suggested he take the pants off and tie knots in the legs and fill them with air and use them for a float, but he wouldn’t, so I swam next to him swimming back to the boat until I realized he wasn’t going to make it, then I simply grabbed him and carried him back to the boat, it wasn’t more than a couple hundred yards, relatively easy for me as I was an excellent swimmer.
Was that bravery? No, I choose not to think so, rather I was there and it had to be done. Maybe that’s the same thing that soldiers in battle say, but I rather think that because I was such a strong swimmer, that both of those events were just routine for me – mostly, anyhow. So, what really set me to thinking about this was Memorial Day we went to the Fiesta Hermosa here in Hermosa Beach. We went with another couple from our church, and we ran into lots of folks from our new church down there (Hope Chapel). One of the folks we saw was Pastor Steve, he was down there with his wife and kids, and his brother and his family as well. They were running the Hope Chapel booth on the pier, where they were giving out the “Million Dollar Question” flyers. The message is a Gospel message, of course, and there were lots of other folks down there with signs and so forth. I even saw an Athiest with a sign and I asked her “Are you willing to bet me there’s no God?”
Anyhow, one of the bravest things I ever saw was Pastor Steve set up his little stool (a 2 step-ladder type stool) and he climbed up there and preached the Gospel message to a bunch of us folks standing in line waiting for the bus to take us back to Mira Costa. He got yelled at, cussed at, laughed at, but most folks, probably like us, politely listened to his presentation. It took him about 5 minutes to go through, and he was polite, gracious and plenty loud enough to be heard by about 250 folks standing near enough to hear him. He prayed for all of us and told us what a privilege it is to live in America and to be able to preach like this in the open, free, without worry of arrest or persecution from authorities, and he thanked everyone and hoped they’d consider where they wanted to spend eternity.
That was brave! That was far more courage than I’ve ever had in my life, the courage to stand up to ridicule and scorn, the capacity to love others so much that you simply don’t care what they think of you. I was impressed. Pastor Steve is teaching his class at the church on Wednesday nights, and he invited me. If I weren’t already committed to 3 other groups, I’d probably go. I’ll try and take his class next time he teaches it for sure! Praise God for this man’s faithfulness!