Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"If Rushton Can Do It -- Anyone Can Do It!"

Our son John recently returned from Germany where he finished a six-month deployment at a large air base and hospital complex.  Wounded troops are flown there from Afghanistan and Iraq and after they are stabilized they are flown to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC for specialized treatment. 

As an ER doctor he was the head of a team consisting of him, a respiratory therapist, and an ER/trauma nurse.  Almost every week they would be flown from Germany to Washington, DC with severely wounded young men.  Their mission was to keep alive the wounded troops during the flight to Walter Reed Hospital.

He told me of two young men -- one barely 20 and the other in his late 20s who were blown up by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan.  The youngest of the two lost all four of his limbs, and the older man lost his two legs.  The older soldier was grateful that he had just lost his legs as he compared himself to his friend.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what John has witnessed during his three years in the Air Force as an ER doctor.

As I contemplate his experience with these wounded troops I realize what a heavy price some individuals and their families are paying in their fight for freedom against these frenzied and misguided fundamentalist terrorists.  I hope we can appreciate what they are doing for us as we go about our comfortable daily lives.  We must never forget them or their predecessors who have fought so valiantly during the 20th century and on into the 21st century defending our freedom and wonderful way of life. May their sacrifices not now or ever have been offered up in vain.

As I have contemplated what John has been through and seen, it has embarrassingly called to mind my own puny contribution to the defense of our nation many years ago.

I was released from my mission to Central America in May of 1961.  I immediately joined the Nevada Army National Guard to avoid the draft.  I was sent to do my basic training at Fort Ord, California in January of 1962.  When I went to Fort Ord I was a physical wreck. I had recently recovered from infectious hepatitis, which put me in a hospital in Guatemala City for 43 days. When I got up out of bed and out of the hospital I was so weak I could barely walk. In that weakened condition I finished out the last few months of my mission and when I arrived home I barely weighed 150 pounds, if that. I was pale and unable to do more than two or three push-ups at a time. I don't think I could do a sit up, and pull ups, hanging from a bar, were impossible. In that kind of shape I flew to San Francisco and was bused to Fort Ord to begin my basic training.

It was just my luck to be assigned to Co. B. 2-1. The company commander was a young man by the name of Lieutenant Squatriglia. The Army was his life. As my son Mike would say, he was an Army "Nazi."  He was in great shape and even had muscles on his head. His uniform was spotless and so starched that you could have cut your hand by rubbing the creases on his pants. Even his underwear was khaki colored. He was an expert in jungle warfare and hand to hand combat.

The first day he met me, we were all standing in line waiting to go into the mess hall to eat lunch. He was standing at the door and as we approached him one by one, he would have us do as many push-ups as we could before entering and eating. I assumed the correct position and cranked out three great push-ups. To say the least, Lieutenant Squatriglia was less than impressed. He just knew that I could do more than I was doing and couldn't believe there could be anybody as weak as I appeared to be. From that day until the end of basic training he made sure that I was the last person to enter the mess hall to eat. He intensely disliked me! He didn't like anything about me. I wasn't "regular army" and he knew it. He knew that I was what they called a "six-month wonder." He took it upon himself to make my life as miserable as he could.

I, in turn, did everything I could do to get him upset. I don't know what it was inside of me but I just secretly enjoyed infuriating Lieutenant Squatriglia. When we marched, on purpose I marched a half step slower than everybody else with lieutenant Squatriglia right at my side counting the Cadence loudly into my ear.

When we had bayonet training he would stand in front of us and holler "What is the spirit of the bayonet?" We were supposed to holler back enthusiastically, "To kill, to kill!" Then he would scream at us, "What two kinds of bayonet fighters are there?" We were supposed to scream back, "The quick and the dead!" He would then scream back, "What kind are you?" We were to holler back, "The quick!" And then he would shout at us, "What kind are they?" We were to shout back, "The dead!" Then we were supposed to growl like tigers. Well, I just couldn't get into the spirit of the bayonet and would always be found at the back of the group not really shouting or growling. Lieutenant Squatriglia was well aware of this. It just killed him.

Lieutenant Squatriglia's greatest desire was for his company to do better than any other company at Fort Ord in the graded test that culminated our basic training. It was a series of 10 events with a possible 10 points on each event. I determined in my heart that I was going to get 100 percent on the graded test. Without Lieutenant Squatriglia realizing it I was beginning to put on weight and was also getting stronger through all the physical exertion and good food. I maintained a low profile however, and just tried to stay out of his way as best I could.

The day of the graded test came. My group's first event was at the rifle range. We had practiced shooting on a number of different days but now we were shooting to qualify in different categories, the highest being "Expert."  You had to shoot Expert to receive the maximum 10 points in that particular event. The old M1 rifle we were using had a peep sight on it similar to the one on the rifle in "Quigly Down Under". For some reason it was just made for me. We were standing in foxholes with our rifles resting on a sandbag. Silhouette targets of men would pop up at different distances and I would squeeze the trigger and they would fall down almost every single time. It was just incredible. It was one of the most enjoyable activities in which I had ever participated. When the results came in, I was one of the few men in the company who had qualified as "Expert" on the rifle range.

I went from event to event earning the maximum number of points each time. One of the events, for example, was throwing a dummy hand grenade through a swinging tire -- 10 times. I put it through every single time. Another was crawling on your belly while cradling your rifle in your arms under a barb wire obstacle course in a specified amount of time.

Well, by the end of the day I knew that I had received 100% on every event. It took until evening for all of the results to be tabulated. When Lieutenant Squatriglia saw what I had done, he thought for sure that I had somehow cheated and had the scorekeepers double check all of my scores. When he finally realized that everything was in proper order he called the entire company of over 200 men out onto the parade ground in front of our barracks. In all of Fort Ord, in that particular cycle of basic training, there were only two men out of the several thousand that were there that had earned 100% on the graded test.  Lieutenant Squatriglia called out my name and had me come and stand in front of the entire company. He told them that I had received 100% on the graded test and then said, "This just goes to show, men, that if Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"

I have shared these experiences with you for a couple of reasons.  I believe the Lord knew I wouldn't do so well in Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle East.  He let me do my duty to my country at Fort Ord and then at the Presidio of San Francisco.  Also, based on my experience at Fort Ord, I learned to be careful in judging others by their outward appearance. You can never be sure what an individual has done, can do, or especially what they have in their heart.

And then, truer words were never spoken than, "If Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"

A number of people over the many years since my accident have said to me that there is no way they could do what I have done and endured.  That is so false!  We never know what we are capable of doing until put to the test.  And believe me, "If Rushton can do it, anybody can do it!"


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