Friday, April 12, 2013

"On The Manner of Death"

I was just reading a strange news report yesterday about a Russian man, who had taken a vacation in a wilderness area, then decided to photograph a beaver, only to have the beaver attack, catch the femoral artery in the right place, and the poor guy bled to death.

Folks, I've got to tell you, when you die by beaver bite you're way overdue for a trip to the afterlife.  I couldn't help thinking that one of St. Peter's administrative assistants had blown a "death call" some time back...perhaps the guy had survived a severe bout of pneumonia, or a "hit" from the Russian mafia.  I mean you just don't die from a beaver attack!  It's just not done!

Conversely, sometimes, when you're surely meant to die, you somehow escape the grim reaper.  I, myself, had an auto accident that should have killed me, but didn't.  I was driving on an icy road just outside Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha Nebraska in the winter of 1981.  I came upon a group of cars that had piled into each other and, to avoid hitting any of them, I steered my compact car toward the roadside.  However, because of the icy conditions, I slid off the road as the car began rolling.  I rolled three times and ended up upside down in a deep irrigation ditch.  When the highway patrolman, already on hand for the group smashup, came over and descended into the ditch he found my car with the windshield smashed in and the top of the car flattened to the level of the dashboard.  When he came upon me he was shocked that I was alive and able to climb out of the wreck.  Other than some superficial cuts on my arms and facial lacerations I was not seriously hurt.

Perhaps my most bizarre escape from the Grim Reaper was as a young Air Force Security Policeman.  One stormy night on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base I was pulling guard duty on an alert nuclear loaded B-52 bomber.  Despite severe lightning in the area I was carrying my M-16 rifle "barrel up"..since it wasn't yet raining.  Suddenly lightening struck the tail of the B-52 and somehow ricocheted over to my upright rifle barrel.  I was struck unconscious.  Fortunately a security response patrol was in the area and happened to be looking my way when the lightning struck me.   I regained consciousness as I was being rushed to the base hospital.  After being thoroughly checked out by a military doctor I was treated for mild shock and released.  For the remainder of my tour my buddies abandoned my real name and simply called me "lightning".

One of my friends in Korea was not so lucky.  He was a young fella with a Korean bride and an infant son.  They lived two doors down from me in an apartment facility just off of Osan Air Base.  Anyone familiar with Asian custom knows that, upon the infant's first birthday, a huge party is called for.  Perhaps the tradition harkens back to ancient times when the one year survival of an infant was cause for celebration.  At any rate, my friend and his wife held a huge family and friend party at their second floor apartment.  Revelry and happiness was evident that day as the extended Korean family came and went after enjoying a sumptuous meal and some fine spirits.  About five o'clock in the afternoon everyone had apparently gone home.  The young father was helping his wife to clean up after the party.   All of a sudden from my apartment I heard a loud feminine scream.  I ran out of the apartment and ran down the hall to the balcony.  As I looked down from the balcony I saw my young friend lying prone on the concrete patio below, his head being cradled in his wife's lap.  

I ran down the stairs to see if I could help.  But a quick glance told me it was too late for this young man.  He had apparently been shaking out a small floor rug when he got his feet caught in the rug and plunged over the balcony to his death.  When I got to him his brains were pouring out his ears and he was bleeding from the mouth and no longer had a pulse.  We quickly got a base ambulance to respond and bring him to the base hospital where he was pronounced dead.  No better evidence of the fragility of life.  An hour before this young man was celebrating his son's first birthday and in this hour, was dead.  The tragedy haunted me for months.

Just as the seemingly harmless act of shaking out an area rug should bring death, sometimes the almost comically happenstance of survival when survival isn't expected can baffle the senses.  One of my buddies in Vietnam was coming on duty for his shift.  He drove an 50-caliber mounted Armored Personnel Carrier.  One step on his pre-duty checklist is to check and clear the 50-cal machine gun.  My friend stupidly climbed up the front of the APC and, standing in front of the 50 cal barrel, reached out to the charging handle and set off a round and shot himself through and through.  If you've never seen a 50 cal round, it's about five inches long and a good inch in diameter.  

We got the medics on scene and they ran our friend to 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon.  For the remainder of the night we all sat in bunkers or on patrol and mourned the death of our young friend.  The next morning after returning to our hootches we learned from his hootch mate that our friend not only survived but would most likely be released within a couple of days.  As it was explained to us, the .50 cal round passed through his body cleanly and hit no major organs.  And because the huge round, fired so close to the body, had not had time to tumble, thus making a nice clean hole at entry and exit. 

I guess the moral of all this is that we never know what manner of death will take us.  I guess if we all had a choice we'd want to go out in some blaze of heroic glory.  Sadly, most of us pass in more mundane manner.  I once asked a fella how he'd like to be "taken out".  He said he wants to be 65 years old and have a heart attack while between the legs of a twenty year old virgin.

As for me, I'll settle for not dying of a beaver attack.  (Whoops; that wasn't mean to be a pun!  :) ) 


  1. That beaver attack received a lot of puns, the best one I heard was, "beavers ain't no pussies"! Good One, that. I feel for the guy though, geez, your death, though tragic, becomes a punch line. I guess his passing made a lot of people smile. You are right though, he must have denied "the Reaper" a few times earlier.

    While reading your column here, I couldn't help but be reminded of Chris Kyle the infamous Navy Seal Sniper, who spent year after year saving lives with his rifle by taking enemy lives. He cheated death on so many occasions it even amazed him that he lived so long and then to have his life taken at an exhibition at a range in the United States by a mentally challenged individual who probably didn't even know the extent of his crime. You just never know. I hope mine is in the quiet of the night in slumber, maybe dreaming of that twenty year old beauty!

  2. You're right, Ken. Chris Kyle's death does come to mind` as irony, now that I think about it. As always, thanks for visiting and for contributing your "two cents".