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.

8 comments:

  1. See, I learned a couple things new about you.

    One, that you actually considered suicide. I'm glad you didn't take that step.

    Two, you saved a car load of guys from death. Scary stuff.

    Now, one question. You said the paper would have said four soldiers die in fiery crash. Which two do you figure would have survived?

    It is Barbara Sue Nager was 1954 Miss Pennsylvania.

    Lar

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  2. Lar,

    Yes! She was Miss Pennsylvania of 1954. I couldn't place the year. I wanted to put a link in the blog posting for her but I couldn't find anything on the Internet for her. I'll look again since I have the year. Thanks to you. You really are a wealth of information. You never cease to impress me Lar.

    Yes, you did learn a few new things about me. Hey, there is still a lot you don't know. At one time I did consider suicide. In retrospect, it was for a stupid reason. You know what they say about suicide "It's a permanent solutin to a temporary problem." I guess with the exception of a fatal illness of the prospect of being waterboarded, any problem we have in our life is always temporary. Thank goodness I came to my senses. I was going to asphyxiate my self by car in our Naudain Street, Philadelpia garage. However, I figured I had a lot more waves to cause others in my life, so I decided not to exit early. My sojourn on this earth isn't finished yet. I have much to do before I return to the great cosmos.

    By the way, I don't know why I said only four young soldiers die in a fiery car crash. Must have been a Freudian slip. The way we were headed for that concret wall, we would have all been goners. We would never have known what hit us.

    I've saved a couple of other lives in my lifetime but that was only because I didn't follow through on killing a couple of people. I went after them and they knew I was looking for them. However, I couldnt' find them. I also attribute the lack of action here on Godly intervention. Again, a subject of a future blog posting.

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  3. Note:

    The six soldiers pictured on this blog posting are not all of the six young men who were in that car on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut that night. Only two, me and my friend Bob McCamley. The others pictured are Dick Egan, Dick Allen, Duane Osten and one person whose name I forget. However, this picture was taken at Ft. Devens in the spring of 1960, during a break between our classes for communications intercept. We were all young and full of life. What a shame if those lives would have been snuffed out in a second like almost happened that night. My friend Bob is picured in the Wal-Mart blog at the check out line (he has the blue sweat top with the strip on his arm.) I don't know what happened to the other four guys but I do know that Bob and I have left a huge impact on other's lives because we were permitted to live that night. I don't mean to say this in a braggadoccia way, it's just a fact. I'm not religious (at least in the organized religion kind of way) but I do believe that we all have a Purpose on this earth. That night we were given a reprieve to live another day. I know myself, that I have always considred each day of life since that night a gift. I've been through some peaks and valleys but I have persevered.

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  4. jim rossignal9:07 AM

    Ron,

    Thanks for taking up the request. Enjoyed the story immensely! Good supporting details. It's completely amazing how you just woke up from what I imagine was a pretty sound sleep at exactly the right moment.

    On a secondary note, I love it how you can't remember the guy's name but his wife, Miss Pennsylvania, you even know her middle name! :) It's a great name, too. Then Lar reaches back 54 years to correct you on her winning year. And here I am writing about it. The things we do and remember!

    Jim

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  5. Jim,
    Just to make sure everyone knows, I was no hero by waking up and probably saving every body's live, including my own. It wasn't like I jumped into a freezing lake and pulled out a damsel in distress. I just happened to wake up and do what came automatically which was yell. I didn't want to crash into that wall. Fate chose me to intervene.

    Yes, it was funny that I couldn't remember Miss Pennsylvania's husband's name (I have absolutley no clue) but I definitely remember her because she was gorgeous! That night was the first and last time we ever saw him (he never joined us again for future rides) and when I found out he was married to Barbara Sue I felt let down. The picture of her in my mind was this beautiful raven haired girl in a virginal white gown and he had sullied this goddess. Remember, I was a big Miss America fan. I followed the pagents all the way from my hometown, state level and then the national level. I kept scrapbooks of the beauty queens. Howevever I was impressed by his accomplishment in snagging such a beautiful girl. By the way, he was in the Reserves so it wasn't like he volunteered for the service like the rest of us did. That was all the more reason we were all sort of bent out of shape. That's the way our young minds thought at that time. You know how it is.

    By the way, Lar remembers ALL THE DETAILS! HE FORGETS NOTHING! I think I'm good on details but he way and ahead of me. He is absolutely scary for his depth of knowledge. Now if he could just figure out a way to make a lot of money off of his incredible talent.

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  6. Anonymous2:07 PM

    Was the name of the guy who was married to Barbara Sue Nager, Richard "Pooch" Reed?

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  7. Richard "Pooch" Reed? That name doesn't ring a bell. I know he was Jewish thus he probably had a Jewish sounding name. Isn't Richard Reed the Shoe Bomber?

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  8. Anonymous12:58 AM

    Do you know if Barbara had a child and gave it up for adoption?

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