Monday, June 16, 2008

Let's salute our veterans

I've been thinking about writing this post for the past week, but haven't had 2 minutes to sit down and write. However, there hasn't been a day that has gone by in the past week that I didn't think about a WWII veteran that I heard speak on Sunday, June 8 at the Reading WWI Air Show. If you are anywhere near Reading, PA, I would highly recommend this fantastic air show, which isn't JUST an air show, but a look back in time, to the days of WWII. I will try to recount what I heard but will mostly focus on the points that have really stuck with me.

The Story
His name is Mike Kuryla. He joined the Navy at the young age of 17. He was stationed on the U.S.S. Indianapolis and, by the age of 19, now a Petty Officer, he had already fought in 8 major battles. I don't know the timespan from the 8th battle to the end of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, but Mike told his personal account of what he and his crew mates endured through one more battle, a few more missions, and the sinking of a ship.

One of the missions was to carry a crate from one location to another. What was in the crate was secret so, as people often do, the crew started to speculate what could be in that crate and of such importance. I don't know if it was a joke or the truth, but Petty Officer Mike told us that they thought it was toilet paper in the crate. After the ship had sunk and the survivers were rescued, they would learn that they carried the A-bomb in that crate.

The most amazing, terrifying, and heart-wrenching part of his story was his detailed account of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. He told of his experience while the ship was listing (tilting to one side). As he was describing it, I envisioned something like the Titanic, had it sunk sideways. He described how the ship eventually was over his head and he was just holding onto a rope, making a plan that he would swim to one side so as to not get sucked under by the powerful suction of the sinking ship. He tried once and got sucked back under the ship. He tried a second time and got sucked back under the ship again. Then this man told how his family of many siblings and his parents passed before him, similar to how you would see your life flash before your eyes and he just prayed to God right there, asking for forgiveness for his sins. He blacked out and, when he came to, he was holding onto one of the life rafts.

In the end, only a few rafts of men made it out alive, but their ordeal didn't end there. They had to endure the horrors of being at sea. Petty Officer Mike told the horrendous story of their several days at sea, where he saw men go crazy, hallucinate, drink salt water, and get eaten by sharks. He said that he tried to tell the men not to drink the salt water, but many times it did no good. All they could do was pray. He said many men came to know God during that time. Isn't it amazing the circumstances that God uses? Eventually, some 300+ men were saved (of a crew over 1100).

But his story didn't stop at his survival. Petty Officer Mike had, at the age of 19, lived through more horrors in his life than most of us will ever experience in our own. And he still had to go home and live the rest of his life with the images of what he had lived through. He had a difficult time, as do many of our veterans of war. He married and had children, but never spoke to anyone of his experiences. Then, a group of survivors got together to try to get a memorial of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and one man tried to convince Mike to tell his story to others in order to raise money for the memorial. Mike refused, until the other man told him that the 880 men who died couldn't tell their story, so it was up to the survivors. That's when Mike started telling his story, which he still does to this day, even though the memorial already exists.

I wasn't planning on listening to this man tell his story. "B" and I were actually heading over to the concessions to get some lunch but, I was somehow drawn to this man and I asked if we could just sit and listen to him for a few minutes. We sat through his entire story and I have been blessed and humbled by his story. It is a perspective on war and our veterans that I have never heard nor experienced and it was certainly eye opening. I know that he probably will never read this post but, in my heart I want to thank Petty Officer Mike for sharing his story. I think more veterans need to share their stories and, well, the rest of us? We need to listen and thank our veterans for all they have done to protect our country.

I don't think I'll ever be the same after hearing the story of Petty Officer Mike and I thank God as well, for pointing me in the direction of his voice. Please take a moment today, and every day hereafter, to say a prayer for those who have served and those who continue to serve our country. And, if you see a soldier in the airport, on the street, wherever...take a moment to thank them. For a more detailed account, read a transcript of Mike's story, though I think that transcript leaves out some of the details he gave us of the time at sea.

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