I got an email the other day. It wasn’t from anyone I know. In fact, I had to scratch my think-bump for a bit before the light bulb went off over it and I found myself muttering, “Well I’ll be damned”! Because we had met, many years ago….
Not only did I remember the incident, but I still have the clipping from the San Jose paper.
Gary’s email said,
“Hello Brian. It’s been 46 years since you saved my father and my life out of the ocean near New Years Island. You and Lt Hsu with Donald Winchester dropped right down out of the fog. I remember the port side small window sliding open and one of you yelled out…”you boys want a ride?”. There was 5 you saved that morning. 4 adult men and me…12 years old. You flew us to the roof of Santa Cruz Hospital to get checked out. San Jose Mercury News front page next day Sunday read…” Five Plucked from Sea…daring airlift as boat sinks off Pescadero.”
My father just passed away at 83. I told the story at his funeral. You could hear a pin drop in the crowded church. My name is Gary (xxxxxx). Retired now and living in No. California in a town called (xxxxxx). Between Sac and Reno. I just wanted to say what I should have said years ago. Thank you for saving my life that cold morning 46 years ago. God Bless. Gary.”
I think Gary’s email to me says a lot. It reflects so well on him because of his gratitude. It reflects on the decisions that a lot of us made to avoid going to a war we didn’t believe in and to substitute that action with serving our country in a lifesaving service.
Honestly, I had little regard for honor when I made that decision so many years ago to join the Coast Guard. I’m sure that my decision was just as much due to my not wanting to die in Viet Nam as it was from any noble desire to help mankind. Maybe it was due to equal parts of each. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m glad that I made that decision. It affected a lot of parts of my life since then. Thousands of others, faced with such a decision, either decided to serve their country in that war or were drafted into the service, regardless of their politics. Many of them never came back. I salute them. The willingness of a country’s citizens to serve that country, regardless of whether the country is right or wrong, must be admired to a certain extent.
I really didn’t have much to do with this incident… For me it was more a situation of “right time and right place”, more than being at all competent or heroic…Hsu and Winchester were the pilots and they were great, but the email Gary sent me really made me think about certain coincidences and their effect on our lives. Kwang Ping Hsu is gone, he died after a career in aviation. Don Winchester went on to a very successful career in aviation and is now retired. The HH52 Helicopter we flew was a taildragger… maybe the handwriting was on the wall for me!
But if anyone owes anyone, it’s probably that I owe Gary. He validated a decision made so long ago. It seems to have worked out pretty well.