Friday, August 05, 2016

We sink or we swim

 Something Lindsey “Zeb” Wilcox told me when I was interviewing him has stuck with me these many years. He was one of the survivors of the WWII US Navy ship, the USS Indianapolis. If you remember, this is the ship that was torpedoed at the end of the war and had carried the components of the first atomic bomb. Of the crew of 1196 men, only 900 sailors went into the water. 5 days later the survivors were pulled to safety. Many succumbed to their injuries; out of desperation a good number drank salt water and went crazy. Zeb was one of the 317 that kept their wits and survived.

“The difference between those who died and me was I didn’t want to die. I didn’t give up hope. I had things I wanted to accomplish.” Zeb told me he had the same nightmare every night and would wake up sweating. He said one time a crazy-eyed sailor tried to choke him, thinking he was a Japanese soldier. Another suddenly spotted something deep in the ocean and dove down out of site, never again to resurface.

Fate would have it that Zeb and crossed paths more than once before I met him as a survivor of this tragedy.  Call it providence or whatever, but I now believe it was divine intervention.

Zeb was long retired by this time, having spent his time as an Operator at Solvay. I worked next door at a competitor of theirs making the same product. He was big in the Lion’s Club and spent a lot of time raising awareness to the naval tragedy. He stayed busy and I was in his home and later his nursing home room many times. He was full of life and it wasn’t obvious that he still endured those horrible memories. He did his best to put it behind him and move on.

Now I am retired and I am carrying nowhere near the bad memories of this hero and I feel I owe it to his memory to make a mark in life. Remember Tom Hank’s character in epic WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan, when he whispered “James, earn this... earn it.”? No one, but Zeb and God was there for him, but he made it and he made it good. I want to be like that. At my swan song, I want people to tell me I am a good man. I can personally say Zeb was.

What in the heck does all of this have to do with you? Everything. You and me both. It’s a challenge of sorts. Do we really need people to rescue us from tragedy to step up our game? I don’t think so. I think it takes a realization that all of can live cleaner, more rational, less selfishly, and kinder. Start by parking father out in the vast parking lots and leave the better spaces to those who aren’t as spry and physically fit as we are. Baby step it.

Tip not only the person bagging your groceries, but hand the checker a buck and tell her she just got a dollar an hour raise. It is not the great big things that make differences in our lives folks; it’s those little unexpected goodies that come our way that we never forget. I have done this many times and the look of surprise on their face is always worth the money.

Many times we wrongly believe we are living a life of hardship, when at out poorest, we live better than most people around the globe. The traffic on Garth Road has some people so angry, they could bite the head off their favorite Hillary/Trump voodoo doll and when you put it in perspective, it is simply no big deal. Why worry about stupid stuff and on second thought, why have a doll like that in the first place?

Zeb told me that one night he awoke and he had drifted about a hundred yards from the larger group. Two 8 foot reef sharks were staring at him trying to decide if he was dead or not. He immediately began to violently swim between them and they followed him all the way back to the group before breaking off. This nightmarish scene was relived every night for over 65 years before he finally passed away a few years ago. And we think we have it rough? Not hardly, my friends.

We sink or we swim folks. You do, I do and it’s entirely our choice which one we make. We can choose to go through life floating and find out where we end up when we get there, or make corrections toward a destination of our choice.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow Bert! I am so moved by this one. What a guy Zeb was and still inspiring others through you...Deb

Anonymous said...

DDC: Bert, sorry I didn't get to comment on your column in The Baytown Sun this morning. I had to leave for work a little earlier. It was another really good one. I'm so glad you started writing again.

Anonymous said...

BMC: I just read your article in the Baytown Sun. It was so good and gave me some ideas on how to help others. Our granddaughter is in the Navy now, and I pray for her every day. I pray that she will perform her jobs well but will never have to face what your friend did.

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