Friday, December 12, 2008
The Night I Saved Six Lives
On a recent blog I answered 100 questions about myself. One of the questions was “Have you ever saved a life?” I immediately answered “Yes.” I didn’t hesitate to answer “yes” because I knew I had saved lives (plural.) A reader of my blog posted a comment suggesting that I use the answer to this question as a future blog posting. I thought “What a good idea.” Then I tried to think of the lives that I had saved. Not just lives that I had influenced but lives that I had directly saved. For example, such as by yelling “Fire!” in a burning building, thus warning the residents of that building to escape for the flames engulfed them and ended their lives. Curiously, I couldn’t remember the exact details of the circumstances where I was directly responsible for saving these lives.
For the past few days I’ve been racking my memory, trying to remember when I saved these lives. I thought to myself, “Am I deluding myself?” But I knew that I had directly been responsible for saving several lives. Then, this morning, it all came back to me. Perhaps the reason I didn’t’ remember was because the event happened 48 years ago. I remember at the time that if I never do another thing of significance in my life (I was 18 years old at the time), I knew my existence on this early plane had meaning. I had saved the lives of six young men in the prime of their life.
I remember clearly at that time, after we narrowly averted certain death, the total feeling of well being and peace. It is the same feeling many people who have experienced near death used to describe their feeling upon seeing the “white light.” I don’t remember seeing a “white light” but I do remember the feeling of peace. Maybe it was my guardian angel or some other supreme power. I don’t know. I only know that something caused me to wake up and yell a warning to the driver of the car we were all in that Sunday night in April of 1960.
There were six of us in the car. All of us were stationed at Ft. Devens, in Ayre, Massachusetts. We were attending ASA (Army Security Agency) school. Most weekends we would leave to spend time with our families in the Philadelphia area. The driver of the car, Richard Kley, lived in Chester, PA. My good friend Bob McCamley lived Norwood, PA. Two other of our friends lived in New Jersey. I only remember them by their last names, Hanson and Cresson. We called them the “Gold Dust Twins” because they were always together. They were friends since grade school and had joined the Army together. I don’t remember the fifth guy, only that he was married to a former Miss Pennsylvania, Barbara Sue Nager, third runner-up to the 1955 Miss America contest. Lee Ann Merriweather won that year. It was the first year that the Miss America contest was televised. I remember how beautiful Miss Pennsylvania was in her huge, white, fluffy, crinoline gown with her dark hair. I was sure she was going to win. We were all very impressed to have her husband in our presence, bookended by me and Bob in the back seat of Richard's car.
We were headed back to Ft. Devens on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. It was late Sunday night. The drive normally took about eight hours one way. We were all tired from the long ride. We were almost “home” at Ft. Devens. We were only about two hours from our beds in the sparsely furnished brick barracks of Ft. Devens, Massachusetts.
Richard Kley was driving (it was his car, a 54 Ford), Hanson and Cresson were also seated in the front seat (they were always together.) Bob was seated on the left side in the back seat; I was on the right side. Miss Pennsylvania’s husband was seated between us (he was small, Bob and I were big.) Since it was such a long drive, we would sleep during much of the ride because we knew we would be getting in late at Ft. Devens. Our goal was to get there before sunrise (a goal we have missed on more than one previous occasion.)
I was sleeping but I suddenly woke up for some unknown reason. I looked ahead through the driver's window and I saw where we were on the grass medial strip, headed directly for a concrete wall at 70 miles per hour! Back then (1960) the Merritt Parkway has two lanes going north and two going south. At one point we had to go into a tunnel. The tunnel entrance had a solid concrete wall separating the east and west lanes of traffic. Richard, our driver, had fallen asleep. His head was resting on his steering wheel. We were headed for the concrete wall! I yelled “Richard!!!!!” He groggily raised his head, and opened his sleep induced eyes and saw where we were headed, to oblivion. He yelled “Jesus Christ!” and swung the steering wheel sharply to the right. Another car in the lane we swung into angrily beeped its horn as we narrowly missed hitting it. The rest of the guys were now awake. Someone yelled “What the fuck are you doing Kley?” Someone else heaved a sighed loudly “Goddamn!”
We all knew we had just missed out appointment with the Grim Reaper. We were given a reprieve. On this dark Sunday night on the Merrit Parkway in Connecticut, we all had just used up one of our nine lives.
No one said anything the rest of the way back to Ft. Devens. No one slept either.
It is interesting how I had placed this event in the very back of the recesses of my mind. I’ve always felt that my existence on this earth has been a gift. In the 48 years since that near death experience, my life has seen many peaks and valleys. At times I have despaired. One time I had even seriously considered suicide. The fact that I did not commit that ultimate act, I contribute to a good friend of mine who saved my life. Ironically, it was her suicide that showed to me the futility of suicide. Suicide doesn’t solve problems, it only creates more problems. But that is a subject for another blog.
I want to thank Jim Rossingale for suggesting that I tell this story. It is not something I want to brag about. It is just something that happened. For some inexplicable reason I woke up that night. I don't know what caused me to wake up. I only know that we had narrowly averted an almost sure death. We would have been another tragic highway fatality statistic that night. The newspaper headlines the nest day would scream "Four Young Solders Die in Fiery Crash." However, we didn't die and we all would live another day. It was not our time. Our mission on this earth was not finished yet.
We all eventually went our separate ways after school at Ft. Devens. I don't recall that we ever talked about that incident again. We all knew we had come close to Death. I continued my close friendship with Bob McCamley. He is a neighbor of mine to this day, retired in Delaware. After school I lost touch with the other guys in the car that night; Richard Kley, Hanson and Cresson, and Miss Pennsylvania's husband (lucky guy, just how did he snag her?) What I do know that I appreciate every day I am on this earth. I consider my life a journey. It is an adventure on a path that I have been given the opportunity to navigate by a greater force than I. I truly do feel blessed to be alive.