Alive

Alive by Bob Bekins December 2020   Before I was born, my Dad was an F4U4 Corsair pilot in World War II. When he was headed from San Diego to Hawaii to the front lines in the Marshall Islands the troop transport plane he was on began losing power. The men, who were carrying everything they owned, began ejecting their precious cargo to lighten the plane but it crashed into the ocean near Christmas Island. Shortly thereafter a PBY flying boat picked them up. Then THAT plane also crashed into the sea. The pilot was killed by a propeller that came loose and sliced through the cockpit but my father survived. They were adrift in the open ocean for nine hours and then were picked up by a Destroyer Escort. Dad went on to Vela la Vela Island where he flew over 50 missions with VMF-222, the Flying Deuces.  

In World War II, there were many islands in the South Pacific. Strategically, some of them were worthless because they did not have a harbor, an airfield, or a place to build one.   The admirals and generals choose wisely and skipped over those islands.   The poor Japanese soldiers on them were then cut off from their supply lines, often running out of everything from food to bullets. When my dad got shot down the first time, his plane sank slowly in the water off one of those islands. He had time to get his concertina, a bottle of scotch, his journal, and his life raft out of the plane before it submerged. The Japanese soldiers saw all of this but were out of bullets.   They used a trench mortar in a an attempt to sink him a second time. They landed one round close enough to splash his last four cigarettes off the side of the raft where he was drying them out. They sank. He said, “That was the first day of the war for me. They killed my cigarettes.”   Another PBY, also under fire, picked him up.  

Several months later there was an almost exact replay of the same events but this time the plane sank quickly, and dad floated out with just his raft. Again, a PBY under fire picked him up. When he got back to his base, his captain told him, “Bekins, we can get all the stupid pilots we want. We can’t get any airplanes! So, either come back with your plane or don’t bother coming back!”  

Not long after that, dad got shot up again; this time he was wounded. The Corsair was shot to pieces. He flew his plane literally into scrap metal on his home field. Dad was shot in the buttocks (more on that in a minute.) When the plane crashed into the field, parts were so scarce that multiple crews ran from their tents. Throwing sand, water, and whatever else they could get their hands on, they made sure that the plane didn’t catch any more on fire than when it had landed. They began to remove parts before it even cooled down. Dad climbed out of the plane, walked across the field dripping blood and into that same captain’s office.   With his thumb pointing the way toward his plane, he said, “I’m back, it’s out there.” and collapsed from loss of blood.  

It was odd that my dad never received the purple heart, at least officially. Here is what he did receive. The crew, or his posse as we would call them today, took a real purple heart ribbon, and at the ceremony, stuck a penknife into the front of it cutting   a hole which revealed a red felt underlayment.   It was called the “hole in the ass” ceremony. This was a fairly common wound because it was the least armored part of the Corsair.   It was also the target of choice in aerial dog fights as an attempt to kill the pilot.   The squadron, VMF-222 had two dogs, both Irish Setters.   They were named Big Red and Little Red.   During that time there was a Japanese pilot nicknamed Washing Machine Charlie whose main job was to keep the American pilots from sleeping. He would fly over at all hours of the night dropping things out of his plane. A coke bottle falling through the air sounded almost exactly like a bomb falling; it produced the same unnerving interruption of their bed time rest. When the American pilots were alerted that Charlie was on his way, sometimes they went to the bomb shelter, but others times they were just too tired to bother.   The shelter had its own problems because Little Red would howl while the bombing was going on and more than once Big Red got so agitated that she bit one of the pilots.  

On one of those nights, dad decided the shelter was marginally safer than his cot in the tent. He went and came back forty minutes later to a strange site. The feather pillows of those days would stay in the shape one left them. His pillow, still at the head of his cot, looked like someone had shaped it into a donut with the hole in the middle. Smoke was coming out of the hole. He reached in, burning his fingers, and pulled out a piece of shrapnel the size of a golf ball. Had he been asleep, it would have gone right through his head. (For the rest of his life dad used it as a paperweight on his desk at the house.)  

Now as interesting as all this is, what matters to me as his son is that each of these incidents might have been the end for me as well.   I would not have been born.   These are just six incidents from WWII, and there would be many to follow in Dad’s life that threatened my own.   Yet here I am. Apparently part of The Plan.  

If you ask your parents and grandparents, you might be surprised to find out just how close they came to an end during their lifetime. As well, face the other direction and share with those you love the amazing moments in your life which could have meant your end. They love the stories and the telling of them is the profit of your hard earned experiences. Each of has a purpose each day. YOU are part of The Plan, too.   Your true stories are the beginning of the next generation’s history and the foundation of their role in life.

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