In Brittany’s video, her mother mentions that her immediate hope was for a miracle. My response to my diagnosis was the same – I hoped for a miraculous recovery so that I would not have to deal with the suffering and pain that was likely to come. However, I now realize that a “miracle” does not necessarily mean an instant cure. If it did, would we not die from something else later in our lives? Is there any reason that we deserve fifteen, twenty, or thirty or more years of life? Every day of life is a gift, and gifts can be taken away in an instant. Anyone who suffers from a terminal illness or has lost someone close to them knows this very well.
I have outlived my dismal prognosis, which I believe to be a miracle, but more importantly, I have experienced countless miracles in places where I never expected to find them. Throughout my preparation for the priesthood I have been able to empathize with the sick and suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. I have traveled to Lourdes, France, the site of a Marian apparition and a place of physical and spiritual healing that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. I have had the great opportunity to serve the infirm there who trust in God with their whole hearts to make sense of their suffering. Through my interaction with these people, I received much more than I gave. I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience.
Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take. As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others. Sadly, the concept of “redemptive suffering” – that human suffering united to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation can benefit others – has often been ignored or lost in modern times. It is perfectly understandable that medication should be made available to give comfort and limit suffering as much as possible during the dying process, especially during a terminal illness, but it is impossible to avoid suffering altogether. We do not seek pain for its own sake, but our suffering can have great meaning if we try to join it to the Passion of Christ and offer it for the conversion or intentions of others. While often terrifying, the suffering and pain that we will all experience in our lives can be turned into something positive. This has been a very difficult task for me, but it is possible to achieve.
There is a card on Brittany’s website asking for signatures “to support her bravery in this very tough time.” I agree that her time is tough, but her decision is anything but brave. I do feel for her and understand her difficult situation, but no diagnosis warrants suicide. A diagnosis of terminal cancer uproots one’s whole life, and the decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil. It is an understandable temptation to take this course of action, but that is all that it is – a temptation to avoid an important reality of life. By dying on one’s “own terms,” death seems more comfortable in our culture that is sanitized and tends to avoid any mention of the suffering and death that will eventually come to us all.
Brittany comments, “I hope to pass in peace. The reason to consider life and what’s of value is to make sure you’re not missing out, seize the day, what’s important to you, what do you care about – what matters – pursue that, forget the rest.” Sadly, Brittany will be missing out on the most intimate moments of her life – her loved ones comforting her through her suffering, her last and most personal moments with her family, and the great mystery of death – in exchange for a quicker and more “painless” option that focuses more on herself than anyone else.
Since local officials announced Ms. Pham’s positive test early on Sunday, the news has resonated through circles of friends who worked with Ms. Pham or studied nursing with her at Texas Christian University, and through the Vietnamese community in Fort Worth, where she grew up. In interviews and news reports, friends have described her as a compassionate and caring nurse who loved her job, was grounded by her Catholic faith and cherished her King Charles spaniel, Bentley, named for her old neighborhood.A Dallas city spokeswoman has said that the city would care for Ms. Pham’s dog.
In photos from friends and family and her now-deactivated Facebook account, Ms. Pham is invariably smiling — posing with a friend on a trip to Boston, sitting outside at a cafe or taking a selfie while her dog nuzzles her.
“She’s able to make friends in any setting, any scenario,” Ms. Joseph said. “She has a contagious laugh.”
The daughter of political refugees from Vietnam, she grew up in the Bentley Village subdivision of Fort Worth, in a large red-brick home that her family built in the mid-1990s, said a next-door neighbor, Jim Maness. Neighbors said that the family was exceedingly private and quiet.
Ms. Pham attended the accelerated nursing program at Texas Christian in Fort Worth, and graduated in 2010. Ashlee Mitchell said she bonded almost instantly with Ms. Pham in classes there. Not long after they met, she said, “we were best friends.”
Ms. Pham and her family were active at Our Lady of Fatima, a largely Vietnamese Roman Catholic church, said Tom Ha, the church’s education director. Because the family prizes its privacy, he said, congregants are meeting in small groups, rather than large gatherings, to pray for Ms. Pham. Christina Mykhanh Hoang, a church member, said Ms. Pham’s mother had simply asked friends “to continue to pray.”
Consider making her, and all victims of this disease and those involved in treating the sick and finding a cure, part of your daily prayer routine.
Here's an excerpt I hope will move you to read the entire thing:
When my cell phone rings early one sunny fall morning, I reach for it groggily, see that the call is from my mother and know that whatever she is about to say will be heartbreaking. I am still in bed in my pajamas, and my mom tells me that Marian Elizabeth has been born. Everything else my mother says is drowned out by the roar in my brain that tells me that I must see my new niece. “Call me back on FaceTime,” I say interrupting her. A moment later, the video call comes through.
Marian Elizabeth, named for two women with difficult and miraculous pregnancies, is wearing a hat that is way too big for her tiny body, two months premature. My sister, Elizabeth, is holding her daughter both gingerly and with such strong love. And I just keep saying over and over again, “She’s so beautiful, I love you both so much. You are both so beautiful. I love you. I love you. She is beautiful,” even though I know my niece can’t fully comprehend it, while at the same time trying to understand it all myself. And then a few minutes later, somehow, I tear myself away from the phone, and I head off to work and I wait.
I am waiting for the next, inevitable call. The joy of seeing my niece alive is accompanied by the heaviness of knowing that what we had expected had, in fact, come to pass. Marian, facing a host of health problems, will only live for a few hours.
An Iraqi television host started crying on-air over what ISIS has done to his country’s Christians, according to a video and translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
“They are our own flesh and blood,” Nahi Mahdi said on Asia TV in late July, covering his face as he wept. “Some of them have left for Sweden or Germany …. Who does [ISIS] think it is to drive out our fellow countrymen?!”
“Our country is like a rose, and its petals are the Christians, the Arabs, the Kurds, the Sabians, the Shabak people,” Mahdi continued. “These are all our countrymen.”
Another panelist agreed, adding: “The Christians have done nothing wrong. They haven’t hurt a soul. On the contrary, they are peaceful people, who love all sects. They are honorable people, with high moral values.”
“We stand one hundred percent in solidarity with them,” he concluded.
Here's the video:
God inspire more to be like him in the Muslim world. And protect him from harm.
“When I think of the beaches of Normandy choked with the flowers of American and British youth and when, in my mind’s eye I see the tides running red with blood, I have my doubts, Ike. I have my doubts.”
- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day
It is hard to imagine these words were ever uttered by the jowly, defiant, cigar-champing lion of resistance, Winston Churchill. But they were. And who could blame him? The ruthless Nazi juggernaut which dominated the majority of Europe in less than one year had fortified its French and Mediterranean coasts. A multi-front war (Western European/North African front, Eastern European/Soviet front and Pacific theater) was being waged with an odd alliance of countries led by a conservative aristocrat, an idealistic liberal and a despotic communist. An enterprise of unparalleled ambition, unmatched resources and uncertain outcome aiming to cross the English channel and liberate Europe was being undertaken. And if that weren’t enough, there might be bad weather. It led Churchill to anxiously approach his wife as they were retiring the night of the invasion and ask,
“Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”
She could offer no answer.
Please read the rest. God bless and rest those who served and sacrificed for the rest of us on that day 70 years ago today.
Regular readers will know the name Locutisprime. He's been a guest blogger here at Brutally Honest since June of 2008 and has posted often since then though not as much since the blog's focus moved from things political to things Catholic.
What you're likely not to know is that Locutisprime is a retired police officer who served and protected the city of Atlanta and its suburbs. You're also likely not to know, because only now has he decided to go public with it, that he was once wounded, nearly fatally, while serving and protecting.
Today is the 30th anniversary of my life. Thirty years ago today, I was a newly married Atlanta Police officer with a pregnant wife and a lot of life ahead of me to live. That all changed at 8pm on June 1st 1984.
I had earlier located and identified a stolen car in the Greensferry projects of Atlanta. Stolen from Rockdale county Conyers days earlier, it popped up as stolen on my mobile data terminal. It was a Buick Regal. A popular car and a favorite target of car thieve back in the day in Atlanta. After sitting back for close to two hours watching the parked car at a distance, I moved to a different location while another unit maintained his observation from another location up the street.
That was apparently what the thief was watching and waiting for. As soon as I pulled off, he quickly entered the car and proceeded to leave the area. I intercepted him on Taliaferro Street right before he reach MLK. Once we turned onto MLK, he knew we had him and he immediately dove the car into a driveway between two businesses. Normally, this driveway/alley was open and he could have easily shot through and out the other side and the chase would have been on. But there was a car parked in the alley that day.
He was trapped. He knew it and I knew it. With split seconds to make a decision, I realized I didn't want to give him the opportunity to back out or ram my car trying to escape, so I pulled in quickly and pinned his car in the driveway. Exiting my car, I had my pistol drawn and ordered him to put his hands where I could see them. He sat there for a few seconds, then he opened the drivers door straight arm with his left arm. At the same time he opened the door, I saw him turn his head to look back at me. What I did not realize or notice at that moment, was that as he opened that door, he placed a revolver under his left arm and along side the car and open door. He began firing.
I realized what was happening when the blast and concussion from his pistol hit me. I didn't feel that first bullet. It struck me above the waist on my left side in the skin. It was what is called a "through and through" wound. It went through the skin and out, not harming any organs or causing any lasting injury. But the impact of the bullet did have a result. The impact spun my torso to the left.
There are a lot of so called experts who have written extensively about shootouts and gunshot wounds and the effects and results of being shot. I had read them previously and I have read a lot of them since. Those so called experts will tell you that a person being shot with a handgun will have little or no reaction to the impact of the round, other than the equal amount of kinetic energy equal to the weapons recoil. I can personally state from my own personal experience, that all the scientific assertions of the so called experts is a lie.
When you are shot by a weapon of substantial caliber, it will have a dramatic effect on your body. In my case, I was spun violently to the left. The result was to expose my right side to the gunfire. By the time the second round was fired, (milliseconds) I had identified the weapon and saw the firing position of the perpetrator's weapon, but my weapon was out of position and facing away as a result of my being spun by the first bullet.
The second round came quickly and struck me just below my ribs on my right side, about 7 inches from my solar plexus. I felt the muzzle blast from it too. I saw the muzzle flash this time. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I had not realized I had been shot until this point. The first round had not registered in my mind, as there was no pain or visible effect in the split second of occurrence, but the second round had struck me hard enough to knock me down. Once again, the expert opinions will assert that this is not possible. Trust me, it is possible. I was there. I experienced it. When I hit the ground, I went in hard and landed on my right elbow. This caused my weapon to spring free from my hand and bounce underneath my patrol car. As I rolled onto my back, I realized I had lost my weapon and I looked back toward the perpetrator's car. As I did, I saw that the perpetrator had exited the car and he immediately went into a shooters stance and fired two more rounds at me as I lay on the ground.
The 3rd bullet struck me in my left hip and burned as if someone had stuck a branding iron to my hip. I also felt the bullet hit the bone and rattle my entire leg. His 4th bullet missed due to his rapid firing the weapon. That bullet went into my car door, about 18 inches above my head. Once he had fired his fourth round at me, the perpetrator ran to his right and my left and behind cars that were parked on the curb. In the next few seconds time stopped. A lot of things happened in a very brief time.
I tried to get to my backup weapon (a 38 special snub nose pistol) that was in an ankle holster on my left leg, but due to the gunshot wound to my hip, I could not reach it or raise my leg. I later learned why. The bullet had severed my Sciatic nerve and cause other nerve damage, so moving the leg or reaching down to my ankle was completely out of the question. I then tried to put out an officer needs help call on my belt radio, but I could not get anyone to answer me. I later learned that the first bullet that struck me in the side, had snipped my radio cord and disabled the transmit function. I could hear police radio, but they could not hear me.
As I lay there, I realized that the perpetrator had been engaged by my back up unit. The other unit who had been staking out the car earlier in the Greensferry projects. As I looked up the street on MLK from where I lay, I could see David's car. He had jammed the front of the patrol car into the curb at an angle to my position, obviously reacting as I had, to the perpetrator's attempt to flee and being trapped.
As I laid there, I could hear the gun battle between David and the perpetrator. All I could think about at the time was three thoughts. “For some reason police radio is not answering me, I don't have a weapon and please Lord, don't let him chase him back towards me.” Like I said, a lot of things happened in a very short period of time that evening. Everything I just described probably took no more than three seconds start to finish.
When the gunfire ended, I saw David appear from behind his patrol car. He ran around to the right rear quarter panel, dropped down and reloaded his pistol. In those days, we all carried S&W Model 10 38 special six shot revolvers. Once David had reloaded, he rose and inched his way back around to the left side of his patrol car, which is where he had last engaged the perpetrator. I knew instantly when he spotted him, as David recoiled backwards as if he had spotted a snake. He inched forward again with weapon trained and I saw him relax. That told me instantly that the perpetrator was down. David then glance over at me, grabbed his radio and said: “501 to radio, signal 63! Shots fired! Officer Pyrdum has been shot!” Later when he came to visit me in the hospital, he said he didn't use my name, but I told him he did and a while after that, I obtained the recording from communications and played it for him.
A lot of things happened very quickly after this. I laid back and began taking inventory of myself and I realized I was shot and apparently shot pretty bad. I could feel my stomach distending, which meant it was filling up with blood from the wound. The first EMT to reach me five minutes later was a female Grady EMT (Mindy) that I knew well. She started to put BP cuff on me to get my BP. I told her to forget about that, but to get IV's started on me fast, as I was bleeding badly and I could feel it. She looked me in the eye briefly and she knew I was right. She immediately started an IV as her partner reached me and started asking her about my BP. She told him they would get that in the ambulance, but for now, just help her get a couple of lines of ringers (lactated Ringers) started on me. After that, everything became a blur as they cut my uniform off, started IV's and placed me on a backboard for transport. They also put MAST trousers on me (also called the Pneumatic Anti-Shock Garment (PASG) I assumed (wrongfully) at the time, that they were doing this because I was a cop. I later learned that you don't get MAST trousers, unless you are in bad shape.
They loaded my on the gurney and began racing to the back of the ambulance with me. Everyone was on the scene by then. Dozens of police officers all patting me on the leg etc. as they went to load me into the ambulance. One of the officers came over to me as they were loading me up (Gary Bulatt) and said: Don't worry Ace! The bastard is dead!” I remember thinking: “I don't really care! I have my own problems right now!”
As they got me into the ambulance and we got underway to Grady Hospital (about 3 miles away) I could hear all the sirens kicking in as we headed up MLK toward downtown Atlanta. Anytime an officer is injured, the police motorcycles are summoned along with as many patrol cars as are needed to block intersections and escort the ambulance to the hospital. My ride to Grady took maybe four minutes.
In route the female EMT (Mindy) got on her radio and advised the ER that they were inbound. Mindy said: “Grady 43! we are inbound with a Caucasian male, 31 years of age, multiple gunshot wounds. Arrival time less than five.” I remember thinking: “How many times did this bastard shoot me?” It never registered until then that I had been hit more than once. Mindy continued: “Stand by for vitals! Heart rate 50 and thready! BP 40 over Zero!” My heart literally sank. I knew what that meant.
I am laying in the back of a Grady ambulance, bouncing across intersections. I have been shot and I have MAST trousers on! And my BP is “40 over zero?” As I told others later, I have seen people with a lot better blood pressure than that die. And here I am with MAST trousers on! MAST trousers are like snow mobile pants, that are a giant blood pressure cuff. When they put them on you, they go on like a BP cuff. Everything is Velcro and once you are in them, they pump them up. The end result is that they push all the blood out of your lower extremities and into your vital organs. So here I laid. Shot multiple times, in the back of an ambulance, with MAST trousers on, bouncing to the hospital to the tune of dozens of Atlanta Police sirens? And my blood pressure was 40 over zero.
This was the moment of clarity. This was the moment I realized that I wasn't just hurt, but I was dying. This is the moment when I began a conversation with God. Nothing fancy, just a talk with God. I told him that I realized how serious things were, that I was in bad trouble and it was looking like I was not going to make it, based upon my own knowledge and evaluation of how bad I was hurt. I told God that I knew there was nothing I could do about it, but I was just married, with a baby on the way and I was not going to simply lay down and die. If it was my time, then I would have no say in the matter, but I would not just lay down and accept it. I told God I intended to fight it every inch of the way. There were many doctors and others who later told me that my decision to fight was the only thing that had kept me alive. I should have died that night, but I refused to just die. I never tried to make any deals with God, I simply told him I knew how bad I was and if it was my time to go, then there was nothing I could do about it, but I was not going willingly.
When we arrived at the hospital, they rushed me past several lines of police officers and chiefs and command staff who were waiting on the ambulance ramp. I was taken straight into a trauma room where what appeared to be thirty doctors and nurses were waiting. I was already naked and there was absolutely no issue of vanity involved at this point. In my mind, I kept thinking “Come on! Come On! Come on! Get me to the OR!” I had worked at Grady ten years earlier as an officer. I had been in Grady surgical emergency clinic hundreds of times and seen all manner of trauma, so I knew there were certain things they had to do to prep me for surgery, but the minutes seemed like hours as I lay there.
I was getting weaker by the minute I could tell, but I was holding my ground with the grim reaper, I was not going to surrender. This one particular nurse kept telling me: “now Carl, you are going to feel a little stick in your left hand or right ankle etc. They were literally plugging me into IV's to the point I must have looked like a Christmas tree. This one doctor came up and began pressing around my collar bone, then he took a pen and made a mark on my chest. (X marks the spot) Having worked at Grady before, I knew what was about to happen. (Subclavicle line).
The nurse said: “Now Carl, you are going to feel a little stick on your chest.” The doctor stopped for a moment and looked at her as if she had lost her mind. He turned back around to me and said: “Son, try to hold still. This is going to hurt like hell, I don't want to have to do it more than once.” I told him to “Go for it” as he sank a six inch needle straight into my clavicle artery via my collar bone area. I barely felt it. The endorphins were long since coursing through my veins, even if I was running on empty as it concerned blood. I was in shock, so there was no pain.
Right after they had that clavicle line established, we were racing down the corridor to the elevators and up to the operating room. Once in the OR, I was obviously the center of attention. I remember everything was so bright. It was the brightest room I have ever seen. They immediately began scrubbing my stomach and torso with Betadine and surgical suds and the anesthesiologist came to my head and asked me if I had had anything to recently. I told him I had eaten about three hours earlier. He told me to relax and they would see me in a little while. I remember looking around and thinking to myself: “I don't know where I am headed, but this is probably the last time I will ever see this world. Right after that, I felt I was choking as they placed and intubation tube down my throat and then there was nothing.
The next thing I remember is being so cold and in total darkness. I was spinning as if I was about to come apart. I yelled out STOP! And the spinning stopped... Then I was in a place like I have never seen before or since. A beautiful place A pace with colors so vivid and structures so beautiful. It was as if I was in a place where God lived. Beautiful marble and alabaster streets and structures. The place looked endless and there were pastures of green and rolling hills as far as the eye could see. But I never saw another soul. I never met any angels or God, but it was if I was being led around and shown the glory that abounded.
Then I was somewhere back in this world. The nurses were lifting me off of one table and onto a bed of some sort. They were using some device that was canvas and had large stainless steel ribs above it to support the canvas and me. One of those rigs like they use on Dolphins is the closest I can describe it. They used that to get me into a bed and I was gone again. The next time I woke up, there was a doctor shaking my shoulder and calling my name. When I came to, I realized “I was alive! That was a major revelation! The doctor explained all that had been done. That I had a colostomy and that they had had to do a lot of work to save me. He explained I would be months recuperating, that I would probably spend a month in ICU and several months in the hospital. When I looked down, he showed me the incision. From my solar plexus to my pubic area. I looked like a gutted trout with this plastic bag attached to my side. My belly button was about 3 inches to one side and there were three huge stitches holding the incision closed. They wanted it to be as open as possible to drain and prevent infection.
I went back to nah nah land after that, as they had me on a morphine drip. (morphine drips are cool) Sometime later my wife was the next person to wake me up. It was great to see her and for her to know that I made it and I was going to make it and my as yet unknown child to be would have a father. A number of family members followed and one good friend.
For those who may have seen the movie Remember The Titans, You may remember the scene where Gerry Bertier was paralyzed and in the hospital. When his black team mate Julius Campbell stepped inside the room, the nurse said, “I'm sorry, this is for family only. Gerry looks at the nurse and says Alice! He's my brother! Don't you see the resemblance?” I had a moment like that the day after I was shot. As I was laying there in the ICU, I was aware of someone approaching my bed. One of the nurses stopped him and told him that only family members could see me. I looked up and motioned for them to let him through. I couldn't speak as I had tubes down my nose and throat, but I could wave and I did. I waved and told them to let him through. I later learned what my friend Bobby had told them when they challenged him about being family. He told them them he was my brother. We have always laughed about that since, but the truth of the matter is, Robert Akers is the closest thing I have ever had to a brother.
After three days, the chief of police Morris Redding came to see me along with deputy chief Willie Taylor. I had my tube out by then, but I could barely speak. When chief Redding told me to let him know if there was anything he could do for me, I grabbed his arm and pulled him close and told him. “get me out of this hospital.” Chief Redding asked me where I wanted to go and I told him. The following day I was transferred to Peidmont Hospital via ambulance. Grady is the best trauma center in the south eastern United States. If you are ever hurt badly, there is no better place to be taken to to save your life, but once you are stable, Grady is no place to stay. So I left as soon as I could communicate that desire to Chief Redding.
I spent 5 days in ICU and a total of 21 days in the hospital. Not too bad, considering I was told I would be in ICU for weeks and in the hospital for months. After all, I was only in surgery for twelve hours and they only went through about thirty pints of blood and another twenty bags of platelets and God only knows how many bags of Ringers keeping me alive that night. That's that the surgeon told me later. Along with the fact that he had spent six hours doing micro surgery to repair my mesentery artery system to stop the bleeding. I went home on the 21st, my wife's birthday. I spent five months with a colostomy and thirteen months out of work, but I made it. It's been thirty years today since this happened. I have never written about it before now, but I figured it was time to tell the story once and for all.
There were a lot of people involved to save me and pull me through along the way. Beginning with David Liber. He truly saved my life that day. The perpetrator (Calvin “Bus-head” Harris) was 19 years old the day he died. He had an eight page criminal record and he had just been paroled from state prison for armed robbery and car theft a couple of weeks before our encounter. David Liber went on to become a Sergeant and he too retired about five years ago from APD. He remains a friend to this day.
Others involved were Detectives Mike Smith and Glenda Antuna. They went to my house to retrieve my wife and bring her to the hospital that night and they stayed with her most of the night of that first day. Then there was Robert Akers, he too spent a lot of time at the hospital that night and next day. I had countless visitors over the next two weeks, including Arthur Kaplan who was literally in tears that he had not been in Atlanta and available to respond the night I was shot. Arthur was responsible for the creation of EMS and the certification of EMT's in Atlanta for decades. We lost Arthur about five years ago. May he rest in peace.
So.....there it is. The story of what happened. Maybe some of my friends never heard or never knew, but that is what happened to me on this day thirty years ago. They gave me a medal later on. The “Police Blue Star Award.” The equivalent of a purple heart. They also gave David Liber a medal later on. A Meritorious Service Award. He should have been given the Medal of Honor fir saving my life that day, but the city declined to do that, seeing as how they had suspended him for three days.
For using illegal ammunition at the time he had killed Bu-head Harris and saved my life. Yes.....really. That is the truth. David received a three day suspension for carrying and using hollow point ammunition. You see, Atlanta police officers weren't allowed to have hollow points back then. The day Calvin Bu-head Harris shot me? He had a 357 Magnum revolver. There were no restrictions on him concerning weapons or ammunition other than law as that he obviously chose to disobey the law, as all criminals do. I know. Amazing isn't it. Think about that the next time some egg head wants to try and sell you on the supposed benefits of gun control.
Have a blessed day everyone and count your blessings each day. I am thankful for a wonderful wife of thirty years, and a wonderful daughter who was born while I was recovering from being shot. I am also thankful for a wonderful son who came along in 1986 and for my two older children who were in grade school at the time. The Lord allowed me to stay here and to see the last thirty years of life with my family. I hope I still have a few more years left before I go back to visit that beautiful place I was given a glimpse of.
Thank you Carl for your service and your sacrifice. It is an honor and a pleasure to have made your acquaintance albeit only in the cyber sense. Perhaps one day we can meet up in person over a beer or two.
The great Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn despaired of many things, not the least of which was courage, not in himself, but in others. He despaired of courage among the elite classes; politicians, Western business and intellectual leaders, and he knew their cowardice would naturally flow down to everyone else.
Like all virtues, courage is a habit built up by repeated acts over a lifetime, like a muscle, like all virtues. But courage may also be squandered.
There are moments when each of us has betrayed courage. Forty years later, I still see a basketball bounce a few feet from my grasp, back and forth between two guards on the opposing team. And how with the right timing, a few steps and a confident grab, there was nothing but open court before me. But I stood there frozen, and never grabbed that ball. That may sound a trifle, but it is a moment of cowardice that haunts me still.
A week later, it got worse. The coach looked down the bench to send in a scrub. His eyes met mine – and I looked away. Down and away. Message received. In the locker room, he told us that anyone who did not want to play ought to quit. So, I did. What a coward. Quitting, cowardice’s wicked companion, is an easy habit to start and hard to break.
I often think about Lenny Skutnick. Driving in Washington near the 14th Street Bridge, he heard that a passenger jet had just crashed into the icy water of the Potomac River. He nosed his car through stopped traffic, steered it close to the water’s edge, looked out at the freezing water, plane submerged and sinking, a wing sticking out with people clinging to it. He dove into the icy water over and over and saved them.
A lifetime of cowardice and quitting does not prepare you for that moment. Plenty of others had good reasons to stand mouths agape doing nothing. Not Skutnik. He dove in. How had he prepared for that moment?
A conservative friend was presenting his new book on national sovereignty at the Council on Foreign Relations. Around the table were top officials from the United Nations, U.S. State Department, and think tanks. My friend oddly mocked the way pro-lifers have critiqued a certain U.N. committee. Instead of stepping up and defending the critique, I sat there. It would have been an easy layup. But I sat there.
And this is the fear we must all grapple with in this day and age. Those Skutnick moments are mostly for soldiers, moments where you overcome a fear of physical harm and even death. For us, there is fear of embarrassment, fear of getting caught out, laughed at.
Who among us has not hesitated to engage social issues; contraception, abortion, stem cell research? Who among us has not hesitated to engage on the gay question with friends, family, or even strangers, for fear of getting caught out, knowing simple assertions, but not the second and third and fourth thing to say? And then there is the mockery, a specialty of the other side.
David French, who works for the American Center for Law and Justice, went from a state university to the Harvard Law School. Before he went he fretted about whether he was up to the intellectual cut and thrust of an Ivy League law school. What he found was no intellectual engagement at all. What he got from the other side was mockery, only mockery.
Of all the virtues, the Church teaches prudence is the queen, for she teaches what to be courageous about. But without courage, at least in some cases, prudence might be all good intentions and not much more. Churchill said courage is the supreme virtue because of that. Fine, Churchill was no theologian. Still, he was onto something, and that is prudence needs her muscular friend courage.
Kids today are afraid of being caught out. Imagine a college campus with invited speakers shouted down and disinvited; professors mocking the beliefs family and Church taught you. The fear these kids feel is the fear of embarrassment, being caught out, being isolated. A habit of non-engagement gained in college is a habit that can last a lifetime.
Even worse, there is no private space any more. A young man blowing off steam in his dorm room could be recorded and ridiculed, perhaps brought up on charges before academic courts. And the lessons of Brendan Eich will last a lifetime; contribute to an unpopular cause (traditional marriage), and you lose a job, even six years down the line. This is the Solzhenitsyn world, where you fear everyone around you.
The Korean war was one of the most brutal conflicts in human history. Millions lost their lives in a three year span, many of them from the bitter cold. When the war ended in 1953, a group of American POW’s emerged from the darkness of a prison camp bearing an almost four foot high crucifix made from firewood, with a crown of thorns woven from radio wire. They wouldn’t leave the hell they’d survived without it. It was made by a Jewish POW in honor of the Catholic chaplain that men of every faith loved: Fr. Emil Kapaun.
*From the crucifix carved by Jerry Fink, with a crown of thorns fashioned by Bill Funchess
Fr. Kapaun grew up in rural Kansas. He was baptized at the parish his parents were married in and eventually served as pastor there, but he felt the call to leave the comforts of home to become a military chaplain.
As a chaplain he was known for his intense devotion to the soldiers who he called, “my boys.” He traveled thousands of miles celebrating masses for them, often using the hood of his jeep as the altar.
On November 2, 1950, Fr. Kapaun was among a few thousand US soldiers overrun by 20,000 Chinese Communist soldiers. In the ensuring chaos he ran among fox holes, past the front lines, and into no man’s land to drag the injured to safety, comfort the wounded, and anoint the dying. He continued his work even after the call to evacuate.
He came upon one wounded soldier, Sgt. Herbert Miller, with an enemy soldier standing over him, aiming his rifle and about to pull the trigger. Fr. Kapaun pushed the soldier aside and picked Sgt. Miller off the ground. The communist soldier could have killed them both but stood there, stunned by the courage of the unarmed chaplain.
After the fighting ceased the captured soldiers were sent on a death march to a prison camp. Any person straggling or too wounded to continue was shot. For about 40 miles, he alternated between helping Sgt. Miller walk and carrying him. He also helped other men complete the march, picking them up when they fell and encouraging them to press on.
At the prison Camp Fr. Kapaun offered his clothes to the cold. He risked his life, somehow managing to sneak out to nearby villages for extra food for the men who were on starvation rations. He made a bowl to boil water to save them from dysentery, washed their clothes, and tended their wounds. It’s not just big stuff like starting a movement that makes someone a Saint. Sometimes it’s small acts of kindness in extreme circumstances.
He prayed Mass when he could and led the men in prayer services. On Easter he celebrated a prayer service and led the POW’s in songs of praise that erupted throughout the whole camp.
The guards hated him for the hope he brought to the prisoners. They tortured him, made him stand naked in the freezing cold, and “educated” him for hours on end about communism. When Fr. Kapaun got sick the guards seized their chance to be rid of him. They took him to a place the prisoners referred to as the “death house” to end his life. No one ever came back alive.
The prisoners were in tears as they carted him off, but he comforted them saying, “I”m going to where I’ve always wanted to go, and when I get there I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” The last image they have of him is Fr. Kapaun blessing the guards as he was taken to his death and praying out loud, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Fr. Kapaun is the most highly decorated chaplain in US military history. Nine of the men he had helped survive that prison camp were present when he was finally awarded the medal of honor in 2013, including Sgt. Miller, who he had carried through that 40-mile death march 63 years before.
Lieutenant [Bill] Funchess told me about another prisoner of war, a Jewish prisoner by the name of Jerry Fink. Fink, a Chicago native who had been trained as a military pilot, had been shot down on his first mission; and Fink and Funchess had spent a week together in “the hole,” an underground cell in the prison camp. Fink obtained rough wood from the woodpile, and used it to carve a crucifix for Father Kapaun.
Funchess, too, contributed to Father Kapaun’s crucifix. He had climbed to the rafters in a camp building and found a pair of tinsnips, which he used to cut the barbed wire. From the snipped wire, Funchess had fashioned a crown of thorns for the crucified Christ.
The crucifix, which is 24 to 26 inches high and perhaps 12”-15” across, was brought out of the camp by Catholic POWs when they were released at the end of the war. It is now enshrined at St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen, Kansas.
UPDATE: I've found a video Mr. Stefanick put together that is simply powerful. Stay with it through the end.