Reader Offers Writer Life Lesson



A reader named Marty Peterson was curious about something I said in a column a few weeks ago. As a result, he stopped in at the Payson Roundup office and asked a question. Richard Haddad, the Roundup publisher, called me and got us together on the phone.

Marty had a question about the column in which I suggested that we shouldn't expect everything to go as planned. I had mentioned that in the American invasion of the island of Kiska in the Aleutians during World War II, we suffered more than 300 casualties even though there were no Japanese defenders on the island.

Marty's question yanked my chain in a way it had not been yanked in a long time. It was a simple question, and I don't think he realized how much it startled me.

"But," he asked, "if there were no Japanese on the island, how did so many men get killed or wounded?"

"Mostly," I answered, "through friendly fire."

We talked a while longer. It was a pleasant conversation, but my mind wasn't entirely focused on it.

Something had dawned on me that I suppose I should have realized a long time ago: What is obvious to one man or woman because of his or her background, may not be at all obvious to others.

You see, I hadn't mentioned how those men became casualties because I assumed that anyone reading the column would realize what had happened without my having to state it.

What a mistake.

I spent more than 21 years in the military. During those years I witnessed so many fine young men die in accidents of one kind or another that I just sort of took it for granted that it was common knowledge that, in peace or in war, the military can be a dangerous career choice.

In my very first hitch, I saw an Air Force fighter come out of a cloud and collide in midair with a C-47 transport, killing the commander, deputy commander, and entire inspection team from a major air command, and the fighter pilot as well.

While on Okinawa, I saw a fully loaded refueling aircraft crash on takeoff. It looked like a small atom bomb and took 11 fine men with it.

While I was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, the finest Air Force officer I have ever personally known, a first lieutenant named Gordon Clegg Crandall, disappeared in mid-Pacific along with seven other crewmen on one of our C-124 transports.

He was to have been married on his return.

My wife and I had just finished buying a wedding present for Gordon Crandall and his bride-to-be.

I was a drill instructor for just under three years. I saw young men die in basic training, one -- tragically -- by hanging himself from a tree outside the barracks. I, myself, though my color blindness forced me to be a ground support type, was twice on aircraft that almost went down over the ocean. I could go on and on, but I won't.

What's the point?

Simply this: While it didn't surprise me to read that more than 300 men became casualties in an invasion where there were no enemy troops to oppose the landing, I should have been aware that it might surprise someone else.

We are, after all, molded by our life experiences.

Well, there's another thing I've learned. Better late than never.

By the way, if you are interested in reading about the World War II battles in the Aleutians, pick up a copy of "The Thousand Mile War" by Brian Garfield. You'll have to get on the Internet by going to Bookfinder or Booksearch or Amazon to find it. It's not in print at the moment.

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