The short driveway had just the right downhill pitch to lend quick speed to the junior-size balloon-tired bicycle I launched from the neighbor’s yard for the brief but blind journey across the road which separated our adjoining homes. The two pretty girls who watched were bound to be impressed, and there was little to fear since Linwood Avenue did not carry much traffic. By the time I saw the approaching panel truck coming from my left it was too late to do anything but begin a rather pointless turn to the right which only served to delay the impact for a micro-second. All these years afterward, I can see the yellow lettering – SAM THE CLEANER – on the green delivery truck; a 1937 Chevrolet, and the wide-eyed driver certain he had just killed a stupid kid. By some quirk of fate only the red bike was damaged. Along with the tender pride of an eight-year-old show-off.
The day I was shot I was a high school junior, unaware of a careless 10-year-old farm kid with a rifle next door and unseen through a curtain of trees and undergrowth. I was clad in hip boots while building a spillway on our pond, surrounded by the sound of gushing water and intent on my work. I can still today see what I thought was black “mud” arcing from midway up my left arm into Ayer’s Brook where it turned red. I was a long distance from help when I realized I had a severed artery and can recall today every detail of the leap over a four-strand barbed wire fence (going uphill!), the quickly invented tourniquet fashioned along the way, and the fast seven-mile drive to the hospital emergency room.
During the final, pre-armistice days in the summer of 1953, fighting was intense and constant as possession of a few hundred yards of territory along Korea’s 38th parallel changed hands daily. I had volunteered to hand-carry a top-secret document outlining the details of an upcoming tactical air strike to a forward command post on the western front. Because our old but dependable WWII jeep with its mounted fifty caliber machine gun had just been replaced by a new, unarmed – and cantankerous – Willys “Wonder”, I was traveling alone and without a “shot-gun” companion. Before retracing my route home along Main Supply Route 33, a well-intentioned soldier drew me a quick sketch of what he described as a “short-cut” which would save me time although admittedly unmarked and rugged. About the same moment I realized I had somehow taken a wrong turn, the “roadway” became a rock-strewn cul-de-sac, and my engine died in the middle of a mountain stream. I became aware of an overpowering realization that I had wandered deep into enemy territory, and the shiver that ran up my helpless spine is still alive and with me today. I can still hear the absence of birdsong and the fate-loaded silence in the moments before my engine thankfully returned to life.
The twin-engine Beechcraft-designed aircraft the Air Force knew as the C-45 is looked upon today as a “Classic” of the 1930s and many are still flying. In its own way though, it could be a challenge in the hands of a pilot unfamiliar with its little idiosyncrasies. I was the lone passenger along with the crew chief on what should have been a routine flight into McChord AFB on a clear and lovely “blue-sky” day in 1954. We were at 8,000 feet over Washington’s Cascade Range when both engines quit. The crew chief wasted no time in motioning to me to follow as he strapped on his chute and prepared to kick open the rear hatch. I had, as was my custom, been content to use my own chute as a cushion until realizing at that moment it had been adjusted for someone much larger in stature than myself. Fortunately, at the moment of my ill-starred departure, the pilot discovered how to correctly switch to his wing tanks and the engines came back to life. It was the last time I ever made a military flight without checking my chute straps.Hidden deep in the mid-brain of every human being is an almond-size area known as the amygdala whose mission it is to sense threats in our environment, and to trigger the fight-or-flight responses which serve as nature’s survival arsenal. It also has the power to encode and record every important lesson from our “autobiographical memory” which might serve to protect us the next time. It seems that mine is alive and working well.