On Memorial Day, how lucky I am to be alive


By Chuck Woodbury
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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Jim Collins
10 months 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.

10 months 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.

10 months 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
10 months 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.

10 months 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.

10 months 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
10 months ago
Reply to  Cindy

The saddest tragedy ever, in my opinion.

10 months ago
Reply to  Cindy

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

10 months ago

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

Mark Birnbaum
10 months 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.

10 months 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).

Joe Allen
10 months ago

Amen Chuck! My father was stuck in the turrents of those planes with his photographic equipment. Thankful everyday for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice! I too was lucky, as I served from ’62-’66 but was stateside as a jet engine mechanic! God bless our troops, our president, our country!

Joe R
10 months ago

Chuck, I wish our fathers were alive today to thank them for their service and sacrifice and give them a big hug. My father served in the Pacific campaign and would never talk about it.

if you have not seen the book A HIGHER CALL by Adam Makos, I encourage you to read it, a true story about a B-17 crew it’s pilot Charlie Brown and a German Luftwaffe pilot.

10 months ago

My husband’s maternal grandfather was in WWI, scheduled to go on a troop ship to Europe. He missed sailing because he came down with the flu. The troop ship was sunk and all were lost. Getting the flu was not the worst thing, after all.

10 months ago

Wow, what a strange coincidence of thought and timing. My paternal grandmothers first husband, and the father of my eldest aunt, died in the Spanish Flu pandemic. My grandmother went on to marry her second husband and have four more children, one was my dad. Like you, I have thought “what if”.

Captn John
10 months ago

My dad was in commutations for Patton. Basically a runner with messages only in memory.
Two times I saw tears in his eyes after I enlisted. Once as I left for SEA and in the hospital back in the states. I’m a 100% disabled combat vet. I thank the medic that kept me alive until a dust off took me away and I thank the VA for taking good care of me for over 50 years.

Sink Jaxon
10 months ago
Reply to  Captn John

Hey Cap, it’s easily voiced, but NOT so easy to truly communicate sincerity when saying, to someone like yourself…Thank YOU for your service.

10 months ago

As one who answered the call, I honor those who went beside me. Cannot pass a grave yard without looking for the military tombstones, and wonder about their stories.

10 months ago

Luck is actually Mother Nature.

Bob Godfrey
1 year ago

Chuck, what a well written article and thanks to your father and mine too who served and saved this country. My Dad (still alive at 93) went ashore on Okinawa on Easter Sunday morning in the Marine second wave 1945. As a combat veteran myself, I find myself drawn more frequently to WWII (and others) museums, cemeteries, monuments etc. because I appreciate more and more daily, the sacrifices made on our behalf. We just recently visited the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile and I am amazed at the efforts of those who served aboard and also the USS Drum WWII submarine there. But my most poignant memories are of visiting National and International cemeteries where US soldiers are interred.

1 year ago

True story: my husband’s grandfather was in the Army in WWI. He was in New York scheduled to leave on a troop ship when he contracted the flu, thereby missing the ship. The ship was sunk, and all on board lost their lives! When did you ever think having the flu was a good thing?

Arthur Jacobson
1 year ago

Chuck, I want to thank your father through you for his heroism and valor. How he and his fellow airmen mustered the courage, mission after mission, to climb into those cramped planes and face the unknown is heroism beyond description or medals. Everyone should take the opportunity, if presented, to go to an airport near them when a WWII bomber makes a visit. Try to climb into one of those flying sardine cans and imagine yourself in your late teens or early 20’s high above hostile skies facing a possible horrific death, maiming and/or capture for an untold time. I can guarantee you that the experience of a visit will forever change your opinion of freedom’s cost. Freedom is never free.

Linda B
10 months ago

And here’s to one of the Army mechanics who air tested those planes as they left the manufacturing plant in Flint, MI, followed them into Europe, and kept them flyable! Yes, pilots are definitely heroes; my Dad, to me, is a hero too. Love & miss you, Dad.

Bob p
10 months ago

As a veteran I can tell you it’s not so much courage that makes you do your job, it’s the training, you automatically do what you’re trained to do, I don’t know any veteran who thought about courage before they went into combat, yes they’re courageous but they don’t think about it when they do it. I watched the presentation of the Medal of Honor to an Army medic who said he was just doing his job, doing what his buddies expected of him. That’s what we all do in combat, what’s expected of us. God bless all who served, God have mercy on all who didn’t survive. There is a phrase in one on Billy Ray Cirus songs All gave Some, Some Gave ALL!