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On Memorial Day, how lucky I am to be alive

By Chuck Woodbury
ROADSIDE JOURNAL
I was talking to my daughter, Emily, the other day about my father, her grandfather. And now, as Memorial Day approaches, I find myself thinking about that conversation again.

My mother and father’s wedding picture.

Every single one of us should pause once in awhile to ponder how lucky we are to be alive — how lucky that we ever lived at all. What were the odds of our parents ever meeting, marrying, and then conceiving us at just the right time?

Emily and I were talking about how our lives could easily have never happened had my father, a B-24 pilot who flew 35 missions in Europe in World War II, been shot down and killed. Of those thousands of German anti-aircraft gunners, it would have only taken one to have slightly changed the angle of his cannon to have blown up my father’s plane instead of the crews’ a few hundred feet away.

As it turned out, my father came home, met my mother, and enjoyed a good life that lasted until 2008.

The odds of his crew and him surviving their 35 missions were slim: You or I would never in a million years get on a passenger plane if the odds of going down were even 10 percent of what my father and his brave fellow flyers endured.

I think of all my family members that live today (and others who will in the future) because my father survived— his three children, three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and soon, what would have been his first great-great-grandchild.

When I visit a cemetery (which I often do on my RV travels) and come across the grave of a soldier who did not come home, I think about all the children he may have had that never had a chance to live.

War is such a terrible thing. But, sadly, it happens. On this Memorial Day Weekend, I feel both gratitude for those who gave their lives for our country, and sadness for those who were therefore never born to experience the wonderful richness of life.

I can’t help pondering, even celebrating my own life, which would never have happened had my father not survived. If that had happened, what would you be doing right now? This newsletter would never have existed either.

Always much to think about. . .

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Bill
4 months ago

Glad he survived those odds, @Chuck Woodbury My father was being trained, in Texas- Fort Hood as I remember, for the battle of the bulge, but the Army got in a hurry and took the group ahead of him. He said he later heard one man from that group survived.

Joe Allen
4 months ago

Chuck, you are so right! What that generation endured was terrible, but they did it. My Father was in the South Pacific and Mom was a Wave in the Navy as well. All our aunts & uncles served in one way or another. I was in during Vietnam, ’62-’66. Many came through Travis AFB in a coffin! Sad, but the casualties of war! Thank God for the Men & Women who gave of their lives and those who are serving now to keep us free! Remember the reason for Memorial Day!

Mary Beckwith Davidson
1 year ago

My dad was a B-24 navigator/bombardier in WW2, Italy.

Larry
1 year ago

Well said.

Steve
1 year ago

As I read your memorial, I glanced up at the shadow box my mom made of my dad’s medals, uniform patches, and wartime photos and silently thanked him for his role in WWII. He was also a B-24 pilot, but in the 7th Air Force in the Central Pacific–Kwajalein, Guam, and Okinawa. One of the items in the shadow box is a piece of a Japanese fighter’s 20mm cannon shell that he found lodged in a .50-caliber ammo box. Fortunately, it was a dud shell. If it had exploded that ammo, it would have been just my mom and me when I was growing up. My two brothers and sister wouldn’t exist today.

Sarah
1 year ago

Thank you Chuck for sharing both the photo of your parents and the excellent article about your dads service.. My father is a WWII veteran, USAAC, 8th Air Force, former POW, flew out of Deopham Green England in a B17 Flying Fortress, “Sleepy Time Gal.” The plane was damaged during a bombing mission over Berlin and my Dad was injured by enemy fire as he parachuted to the ground..unable to escape, he was captured and spent 415 days as a POW in Germany and was part of the 500 mile march across Germany as allies approached. He kept a journal that is priceless.
At 98, he is healthy and independent and quite the local “celebrity.” I am thankful to still have him every day. He…like every veteran, is a true hero.

Bob P
1 year ago

Thank you for the article about your father. I was born in 1943 while my dad was in Europe, he survived the Battle of the Bulge as a truck driver moving supplies to the front narrowly escaping death several times. I had never thought of it had your article not been written, but my brother and sister would not be here had he been killed over there, thank you for the reminder.

Dave
1 year ago

I’ve also had the same thoughts since my Dad survived WWII. He was a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in the Pacific theater. Was in Japan during the occupation after the war ended. He also passed away in 2008 after living a long and wonderful life. Thanks Dad.

Don
1 year ago

Thanks for that reminder, Chuck. All of us Baby Boomers (or the majority of us anyway) should take that to heart. It applies to US!

Dan
1 year ago

It seems that the reason for most holidays gets more lost with each generation. Instead of showing gratitude and respect for veterans and friends and family that are no longer with us today, most people will be more concerned with a paid day off work, so whoopee let’s go to the lake and celebrate, even though we dont know why. As we do every year for Memorial Day, my wife and I made a 150 mile circuit putting flowers on graves in 6 different cemeteries.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dan

Thank you for that important message, Dan. And a huge “Thank you!” to you and your wife for honoring those brave men and women who gave their all to protect our freedom. Take care. 🙂 —Diane

Donald N Wright
1 year ago

My Father wondered why no one remembers those that stayed home. He was an engineer at Curtis Wright designing the aircraft, or the men & women who built the aircraft, the munitions, those who kept America running while we were saving the world. Maybe this summer you can visit Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Hanford to learn of the folks in the secret cities. Places in America where English pilots learned to fly for the RAF. America has a history no one remembers.

Joseph
1 year ago

Thanks for mentioning this. I never thought about it.

Joe

Jim Collins
2 years ago

I was born in 1940 before the war, my dad was drafted 4 times, but because he was working for Chance Vought building the F4 u’ s he was finally exempted when the Admiral went to the draft board and told them he was more valuable there building and delivering the Planes than as.cannon fodder, I was lucky I had him til he was 100.

wayne
2 years ago

My dad was a WW II vet and saw combat in the Pacific while aboard ship. After the war he got out, came home and married. Then I came along 18 months later. He missed the Navy so went back in in 1956. I joined in 1965 and he and I served on the same ship for two years. We made several overseas cruises together. When the ship was headed to ‘Nam in 1968, I was transferred off. But as it happened the ship I went to was also sent to Nam one month later. Pop and I served in the same waters simultaneously but never saw each other. But, from time to time we were alongside a replenishment ship and the crews ran sound powered phone lines for us to talk. Our signalmen also sent flashing light messages back and forth when not actually on the gun line. These are good memories and Pop, the true “Old Sea Dog” taught this rookie how to be a good Navy man.

Joe
2 years ago

Thanks for sharing Chuck! Beautiful photo of your parents. I, like you, am thankful for my parents and grandparents. Great memories.

Austin J Crehan, Jr
2 years ago

Today is the day after. Spent the day yesterday thinking of my Dad. Army Air Corp. Came home with no healing wounds but still would not speak of the experience or so my Mother, Aunts and Uncles stated. My siblings and I were a few years after the war.
As Mr. Jacobson mentioned: I visited an airfield when the Confederate Air Force flew in. Climbed in to a B17. At 6’ 1” and not as trim as I once was, it was quite a struggle to move about during the flight.

Thank you Chuck for the commentary and the outstanding picture of your parents.
Austin

alcomechanic
2 years ago

I come from the “other side” of the coin! My step father, Mom’s first husband, was killed in a plane crash here in the state after returning from England. The cease-fire with Japan had been signed and he would have never had to fly combat again.

Needing a few more hours to get his flight pay for the month, he hopped a flight he didn’t have to take. Because of low visibility, the plane he caught flew into a mountain near Tollgate, OR and all crew members were killed.

About 3 years later, my Mother married my Dad. Had Mom’s first husband not been killed, my children and I would not be here.

Cindy
2 years ago

Sadly, we have a similar issue today. How many fathers will not have their children and how many babies will not be born because a woman decided to have an abortion? Death under any circumstances is sad. Death because someone else chose to end your life is a tragedy.

Linda K
2 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

The saddest tragedy ever, in my opinion.

Rita
2 years ago
Reply to  Cindy

Why are you highjacking Chucks’s story and making it about yourself and your beliefs?

Martine
2 years ago

Wonderful article and thank you for sharing the photo of your parents. I can see a bit of you in both

Mark Birnbaum
2 years ago

A thoughtful memorial.

Somehow, humans tend to survive despite our poor decisions (wars, genocides, pollution) and forces of nature that are unpredictable or more/less beyond prevention/control.

So, cherish the memories and hope those that follow us will be able to do the same.

DW/ND
2 years ago

Thank you Chuck! Very timely and excellently stated. Thirty five missions is almost inconceivable in view of the tremendous losses suffered by the U.S. Army Air Force (Now USAF). B-17’s and B-24’s tasked with daylite bombing missions – and limited escort fighter coverage due to fuel range. We remember. I had three paternal uncles in service in WWII – 1 a B-29 Bombardier, 1 101st Airborne paratrooper and 1 on a tank crew. All made it home – but the tanker spent his life in the VA due to “Shell Shock” – now PTSD. We remember! Thank You and thank you to all readers who served or are serving today and especially to those of you who were in armed combat. (My service did not involve any combat).

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