Okinawan Traces of War: Lily Corps, The Himeyuri Schoolgirls


Haunting Apparitions

Haunting Apparitions

The room is haunted, of that there is no question. The ghosts, most fuzzy and out of focus, manifest in black and white, gazing outward from the dark recesses of their vault like wallflowers often do, in silence, inanimate and expressing little emotion.

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But unlike most paranormal activity that is ultimately debunked, the apparitions of the young girls of the “Lily Corps” are real: striking black and white portraits of all those who died line this gloomy chamber.  With each victim is the circumstance of their demise.  Visitors can’t help but read about such horrific endings.  How their jaws were blown off and they bled out.  Or how they were horribly burned by flamethrower, or napalmed in their caves, or how they used hand grenades to kill themselves.  It is inconceivable to imagine such fates for these young mostly 15 or 16 year olds given the very promise of youth found indelibly inscribed on each of their faces.  And these phantoms, covering three walls of this dark, mournful space, all stare towards the deep recesses of a life-sized diorama of the Himeyuri “Cave of Virgins,” where there were only three survivors out of the nine soldiers, 28 doctors and nurses, eight civilians and 51 student nurses which hunkered down there.

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

 

Each of these girls has a story to tell; all we have to do is listen. So many of these young ladies needlessly and tragically either committed suicide or were overcome by the more disgusting realities of war.

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Survivors Today

Survivors Today

The Himeyuri students (ひめゆり学徒隊, Himeyuri Gakutotai), sometimes called “Lily Corps,” was a group of 222 students and 18 teachers of the Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Shihan Women’s School formed into a nursing unit for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa. Daughters of Okinawa’s privileged class, most hoped to become teachers. But instead they were mobilized by the Japanese army on March 23, 1945, an act which sealed their untimely, unfortunate fates.  The name of their unit is derived from one of the schools anthems, “Star Lily” or “Princess Lily,” depending on the source of translation.

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Indoctrination:  Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

Indoctrination: Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

At the outset of their mobilization, their spirits were high. After decades of political and militaristic indoctrination in the Imperial Japanese culture of the time, the Okinawans held some notion of nationalism for the Emperor and Empire of the Rising Sun that had plunged the Eastern Hemisphere of the world into brutal conflict starting in the 1930s.  In fact, many of the Himeyuri students thought that the Japanese Army would defeat the Allies in a matter of days, and accordingly, brought school books and supplies to ensure their expected graduation later that spring.  While the girls (and their teachers) had little military training, hours of nursing indoctrination had replaced subjects such as English, and physical education shifted from learning traditional dances to marching in step over the preceding year.

Beautiful Tickets

Beautiful Tickets

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum offers a unique and moving window into the lives, struggles and sacrifices of this group of girls, aged 14 to 19 years old, recruited and pressed into service. The museum chronicles the lives, studies, and trials faced by these girls.  Caught in the crossfire of raging battles and rampant disease, roughly 200 lost their lives, most in the dark, dank caves which served as shelters, hospitals and fighting positions (often all at the same time) in the southern reaches of Okinawa Island.  After visiting, in a very real sense, these young women put faces to all the innocent victims who suffer while fighting someone else’s war, regardless of time or place….

Remembering the past...Educating for the future....

Remembering the past…Educating for the future….

“News of their mobilization to [an] Army Field Hospital had led the students to believe that they would conduct their medical duties in safe wards flying Red Cross flags,” a museum display states. “The reality was that they were thrown into the hellish war front full of oncoming shells and bullets.”  During the nearly 3-month-long battle, the Himeyuri students served all along the serpentine front lines performing surgery and other difficult duties.  For the duration, most lived deep within improvised and impoverished cave hospitals filled with countless gravely injured and dead soldiers.

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The Japanese military, who then held the Okinawans with some measure of disdain, mobilized a huge number of civilians to compensate for their falling ranks. They conscripted Okinawa’s children and elderly for menial labor, where they too were often directly exposed to fatal combat conditions despite their supposed non-combatant nature.  To the Okinawans’ credit, they served the Japanese military well and with honor, despite their forced colonization and open discrimination by Japan proper.  Okinawa, seen more as a backwards place populated by an unworthy people rather than an integral part of Japan, was largely sacrificed by the Japanese leadership while executing their pointless war of attrition.  In that sense, the Japanese military treated Okinawans as outsiders and deemed their safety or needs as blatantly insignificant.  Quite surprisingly, many Okinawans continued to enthusiastically assist the Japanese, exactly in the hopes that they would finally and fairly be recognized and in turn treated as true Japanese.

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Origami Cranes

Origami Cranes

To the Japanese leadership, however, there was no illusion to their sure defeat. After six weeks of fighting on Okinawa, being pushed back further and further south, an “order of dissolution” was issued to the Lily Corps on June 18, 1945.  Up until that time, only 19 of the students had been killed, but in the following week after being simply told to “go home,” approximately 80% of the girls and their teachers perished.  Survivors committed suicide in various ways because of fears of systematic rape by US soldiers, throwing themselves off cliffs, or killing themselves with hand grenades or cyanide poison given them by Japanese soldiers and even their Doctors.

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument was built on April 7, 1946, in memory of those from the Okinawan schools who so needlessly and carelessly died. Many survivors of the Lily Corps helped build the facility, and in fact continue to volunteer there today.  There are still Himeyuri students alive, but all are now well into their 80s.  Sadly, they won’t be with us much longer to offer their firsthand, emotional testimonies to the more horrific nature of war.

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Located adjacent to the monument, the Himeyuri Peace Museum compliments the site as a befitting memorial. It was modeled after one of the main school buildings in which many of the girls had once studied.  The museum is spread across five different rooms, all which display in chronological order photos, personal mementos, and school documents from well before the battle, moving through the girls’ time spent at the Haebaru Army Field Hospital (read about my visit there here), and finally the circumstance of their demise.

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

HimeyuriDuring our visit, we witnessed one of the Himeyuri survivors giving a special talk at a mock-up of the Haebaru’s field hospital. Although we couldn’t understand a word, her animated gesturing coupled with the rhythmic tenor and inflection of her testament helped breathe life into a facility which seems so centered on death and loss.  “It was dark and humid and unsanitary.  There was no adequate treatment of the wounded; their condition was indescribably bad.  All the wounded soldiers were infested with maggots, especially their mouths and ears, and it was our [student nurses] job to remove the maggots from their wounds.”  Many of the nursing aids assisted in restraining unanesthesized patients during amputation, and would end their shifts by having to bury the rejected, mangled flesh.

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

0But there are also uncomfortably comical recollections. One survivor recounts her capture:  “We were hiding between rocks on a cliff when the enemy found us and started pouring gasoline from above to set it afire.  With no other choice but be burned, we climbed the cliff and saw American soldiers pointing their guns at us.  It was the first time in my life that I saw blue eyes.”

Admiral Minoru Ota

Admiral Minoru Ota

In retrospect, even the Japanese in charge of their futile defense of Okinawa realized their culpability. Masahide Ota, a high-ranking Japanese Army Officer who survived the battle, claimed, “…had the [Japanese] military regarded non-combatants as coming under their protection, evacuations [of Okinawan civilians] would have been unnecessary and the collective self-killings that took place in the Kerama Islands, Ie-jima, Yomitan, and Mabuni would never have been carried out.  In reality, non-combatants were far from being protected by the military.  Instead, they found themselves in a situation where they were attacked by tigers at the front gate (the enemy troops) and wolves at the back gate (their own troops).”  Similarly, Admiral Ota (no relation), the ranking Japanese Navy Officer on Okinawa, made the suffering and conduct of the Okinawans patently clear in his final telegram to his superiors before he himself committed ritual suicide (read my blog about the Japanese Naval Underground).  He pleaded that the Okinawans be not just remembered for their unwavering support even in the face of their grave mistreatment, but that Japan as a nation must see to Okinawa’s future prosperity.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the agony of the Okinawan People

7f3d9_himeyuriDuring the 83-day engagement that has come to be called Okinawa’s “Typhoon of Steel, more than 220,000 people were murdered, including a full third of Okinawa’s civilian population (read my blog concerning the nature of the Battle of Okinawa).  Himeyuri survivors eagerly volunteer as they feel it’s their “…duty to tell people of the reality of war, the brutality and stupidity of war.  It is our duty to speak for our friends who fell in the war and to repose their souls.”

okinawa-himeyuri-museumAlthough literally over 1000,000 Okinawans died here in 1945, it is the deaths of around 200 teenage girls that have captured hearts and speak volumes. The Lily Corps will always reflect the faces of daughters, sisters, and friends, all of whom hold happy hopes and destined dreams of the future.  The Himeyuri students will always remind us of the preciousness of life, that no one should be mistreated, cast away, and killed as if they were inconsequentially expendable.  “Collateral damage,” the sterile and unknowing cliché under which civilian deaths are so easily categorized and brushed aside in our modern times, falls so very short of capturing the true impact of conflict in terms of aggregate human suffering and loss.  Memorials are often about numbers in literal sense, or display innumerable names displayed for public contemplation.  The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum, however, offers a haunting humanization of the true reality of war:  pain, suffering, loss and tragedy.

Offerings of Peace

Offerings of Peace

The girls continue their static stare in my mind’s eye, an uncomfortable confrontation which makes me yearn for peace. I am happy and relieved to be divorced from my role in the US Military, now free to do what I can to repose not just these girls, but for everyone, everywhere, who suffered a violent, untimely end in a needless war.

In Happier Times

In Happier Times

Himeyuri Peace Monument & Museum

Address: 671-1 Aza Ihara, Itoman city, Okinawa

Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM

Admission: Adult 350 yen, High School 200 yen, Elementary 100 yen

Web:   www.okinawastory.jp/en/view/portal/0110987100/

Beauty & Honor Entombed: Ishigaki’s Toujin Grave Site


“At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.”  ~ Simone Weil

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Remembering and Honoring on Ishigaki

Stunningly beautiful.  Emotionally moving.  Serenely set.  Imagine, at great expense and personal effort, accepting the wrongs of those far-removed and in the past so that future generations can realize a nobler future through such splendor.  On Ishigaki Island, this happened not just once, but twice, with amazing effect.

Shisa Lion Dog at Toujin Tomb

In 1852 the American-flagged ship Robert Bowne was carrying Chinese laborers – “Coolies” as they were known at the time, a derogatory slang term for unskilled Asian workers, usually of Chinese or Indian descent – from mainland China to California.  The 410 Chinese indentured servants, realizing during the voyage that they were essentially slaves, successfully mutinied and made a break for the Southern Ryukyu Islands, landing on the beaches of Miyako Island.

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America's Railroad

Chinese Indentured Servants built most of America’s Railroad

After most of the Coolies had found refuge ashore, some of the remaining members of the crew took back the ship and set sail without haste, abandoning those left behind, including some of the ship’s crew.  The Ryûkyû Kingdom, seated at Shuri Castle on Okinawa Island, long had a proud tradition of aiding castaways, and ultimately welcomed the Coolies, even at great risk of further Western involvement in their island archipelago.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, stunningly beautiful Chinesel tomb WM

Initially, the people of Miyako cared for these hundreds of castaways at great burden for such a small and lightly populated island.  Weeks later, the warships USS Saratoga, HMS Riley, and HMS Contest appeared on the horizon, bent on retribution.  After making port, American and British troops seized as many of the Coolies as they could find, though some escaped and fled elsewhere.  Being hunted as mutineers, 128 of the accidental Chinese immigrants were shot dead or committed suicide over capture and slavery.  When the three warships departed the Ryûkyûs, it was with only 70 captives of the original ~380 who escaped.

Chinese Coolies

Chinese Coolies

While the survivors eventually received protection from the royal Shuri government, many quickly caught the plague, for which they had no exposure or immunity, and died one after another, suffering and afraid far from their native homeland.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon's head WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, beautiful Chinese dragon and characters 2 WMThe local Yaeyamians, being an open, friendly, peaceful and very superstitious people, erected the Toujin Tomb (or Toujinbaka in Japanese) in 1971 in memory of and to help console any restless and cheated spirits of those Chinese who so distraughtly agonized and perished.    Toujin is an archaic Chinese term for continental Asian peoples; the tomb can also be referred to as the Tang People’s Memorial, echoing the southern Han ethnic makeup of the Chinese entombed there.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, visitors to the beautiful tomb WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Jody poses in front of the most beautiful monumentIt, by FAR, is the most beautiful burial place that I have ever visited.  The mausoleum, conceived with unmistakable Chinese influence, is intricately decorated with brightly-color and heavily-lacquered tiles depicting dragons, horse riders, and other Chinese appeals, amidst well-maintained gardens along with a few other gravestones and monuments.  The structure is amazingly well-maintained, and in the right light of day (we visited about 5 pm in July), it has the appearance of being brand-new.  The vault is immediately emotionally moving, even though there is no English provided to enhance a Westerner’s understanding.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Toujin Grave, Chinese wise men adorn the tomb WM

But that is only half the story of the Toujin Tomb site.  Although the kindness shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves is a testament to the benevolence of the Yaeyama people, the same can’t be said concerning three Americans who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki in the spring of 1945, less than four months before hostilities ended with Japan.

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

Tuggle, Tego and Loyd in Better Times

15 April 1945 0730H:  On this day, USS Makassar Strait, a US Navy aircraft carrier, launched ten strike mission against Ishigaki airfields using bombs, napalm, and high-explosive rockets.  Heavy anti-aircraft ground fire resulting in the shoot-down of Avenger #31 (Bureau No. 68767).  The crew consisted of pilot Lieutenant Tebo, and his two enlisted crewmembers:  Loyd and Tuggle.

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All three suffered horrendously.  Two were quickly beheaded after being tortured, but for Radioman Loyd, his terrifying ordeal had only begun.  Flaunted through the city center of Ishigaki and castigated by an angry mob eager to place blame for the death and destruction raining down from above, in Loyd was taken out personal and dreadful vengeance.  He was publicly executed by multiple stabbings from the bayonets of numerous Japanese soldiers and sailors, many of whom would go on to face war crimes charges.

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

A VC-97 TBM Avenger

The summary execution of these American Prisoners of War (POW) led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges, seven of whom were eventually put to death.  It may strike some as an injustice and undue escalation of violence, but like General LeMay is often quoted, if the United States had lost the war, then most of the American military and civilian leadership would have been likewise tried as war criminals [quote paraphrased].  To the victor go the spoils, but in this case, it seems that everyone involved eventually suffered.

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Memorial to the Aviators Lost in WWII

Decades after this dark affair, a local professor, Takeo Shinohara, recognized the collective need of the Ishigaki people to remember this black chapter in their history and attempt to make amends, much as was the case of the Coolies in the Toujin monument.  Thanks to these active pacifists, the fate of these three Americans is now openly acknowledged in an attempt to console the wounds of both East and West.  A fitting memorial honoring the memory of the Americans who were killed was christened in 2001 on the very same grounds as the Toujin TombTwo engraved plaques, in English and Japanese, describe the events that befell Ishigaki in the spring of 1945.  The English text reads:

On the morning of April 15, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, a Grumman TBF Avenger, assigned to the carrier USS Makassar Strait, was shot down off the costs of Ishigaki Island by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The three aviators parachuted in to the water near Ohama and swam to a coral reef where they were captured by Japanese sailors.  After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night at the foot of Mount Banna, at the Imperial Navy Headquarters.  The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention, the rules of war signed by the international community in 1929.  Vernon L.Tebo and Robert Tuggle Jr. were beheaded.  Warren H.Loyd was beaten and stabbed with bayonets by numerous numbers of sailors and soldiers.  This incident was a tragedy which took place during war.

LT Vernon L.Tebo, 28, a Navy pilot of Illinois

Aviation Radioman 1st Class Warren H. Loyd, 24, of Kansas

Aviation Ordnance 1st Class Robert Tuggle. Jr., 20, of Texas

To console the spirits of the three fallen American service members and to honor their deaths, we jointly dedicate this monument in the hope that this memorial stone will contribute to the everlasting peace and friendship between Japan and the United States, and that this monument will serve as a cornerstone to convey to future generations our keen desire for eternal peace in the world and our determination to renounce war.

August 15 2001

The Joint Committee of Japanese and American Citizens to Honor the Three Fallen Servicemembers During World War II.

If more peoples of the world would similarly concede, perhaps not their direct culpability in the past, but in their collective inheritance of wounds good and bad, we all could, perchance, realize better futures.  I remain overwhelmingly affected by both these monuments, and have gained a new-found respect for those Japanese, Okinawans, and Yaeyama who truly wish to positively transform the world.  One monument at a time.

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Loyd, Tebo & Tuggle

Address: Toujin Grave/Kannondo Temple 1627, Arakawa, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture 907-0024, Japan, Tel: 0980-82-1535.  The site is positioned right across the road from the Kannonzaki viewpoint (with its disappointingly small and closed-off lighthouse), and Fusaki beach lies just a kilometer further up the road.

For more information, see:

http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Robert_Browne_Incident

http://www.shipleybay.com/archives/Memorials/Ishigaki/Stars_and_Stripes_2001-06-24.pdf

Blue Skies, Black Death


“Dream as if you’ll live forever…
…live as if you’ll die today.” ~James Dean

Jim "Jimmy" Horak

Jim “Jimmy” Horak

Blue Skies, Black Death My Friend, Jimmy Horak.

This weekend was my “last” chance to skydive for probably a very long time. There is no sport jumping on Okinawa, and the jumping in Japan is expensive and a substantial airline flight away from where I will be living. Most of my skydiving while overseas will be during my international travels and visits home. So, in honor of this last ephemeral chance, a group of us traveled to a dropzone over in Mississippi that we visit often to partake in a full weekend of skydiving.

Jim Doing What He Loved

Jim Doing What He Loved

I have an adventurer’s heart, if not budget, and “discovered” skydiving quite by accident. I was in that post-separation-martial-destruction thousand-yard-stare-through-the-haze daze in 2005, on a business trip (from Okinawa, where I was stationed at the time) to Hawaii, and started thinking to myself. I was always interested in skydiving, and actually physically was seated on a parachute all those years I flew ejection seat-equipped aircraft in the Navy, but never seized the day to try a jump. My brother-in-law Harvey (who was airborne with the army back in the day) actually took me to ground school and was paying for a static line jump back when I was in high school (and my parents still don’t know, so let’s try and keep in that way!), but a low overcast prevented me from jumping. And, to be completely honest, there was always that nagging, annoying question rattling around my consciousness – could I actually do it?!? I can still remember the relief I felt when I wasn’t able to jump from the plane, especially after being in the open door fixated on the clouds one thousand feet below me. Besides, after truly falling in love with technical (decompression) scuba diving in Miami in 2001, and having the world-class reefs of Okinawa literally at my doorstep between 1999 and 2005, I didn’t need too much more.

Jim's High-Altitude Record-Setting Tandem

Jim’s High-Altitude Record-Setting Tandem

Or so I thought.

So I take an excursion one day after a very light schedule of “work” to Dillingham airfield on the island of Oahu and sign up for a jump. I found the dropzone (DZ) amazing laid-back considering what they were doing. Having been overly-indoctrinated in the military’s ways, means and methods concerning high-risk activities and training, I’ll admit this was a welcome relief. And there were so many happy people. Truly joyful and glad, smiling directly from their eyes, complete with an infectious enthusiasm that seemed to be at once addictive and contagious. I make my jump, and – words have always and will always continue to fail me here – *WOW*. I literally could not stop smiling the rest of the day. Skydiving is the most exhilarating thing that I can contemplate, perhaps, besides spaceflight. The experience was a complete euphoric high that quite literally can come only from what I call “cheating death….” It is something that WUFOs – “what ‘foe you do that,” or, the what jumpers call any non-jumper – will never and can never fully grasp or begin to understand…until they too make that leap of faith.

My First Tandem, 2005

My First Tandem, 2005

I was hooked.

So I learned shortly upon changing duty stations from Okinawa to Pensacola in 2005. And Jimmy Horak was my instructor, and he was to most jumpers in the greater Pensacola area over the last decade or so. He also was my skydiving and instructor mentor. But more importantly be became my friend.

After 754 jumps, and 719 minutes and 50 seconds of free-fall, which, if you’re interested (and I am), that’s just ten frickin’ seconds short of 12 rounded hours of *REAL* flying during free-fall (and the coveted 12-hour free-fall award from the United States Parachute Assocation), each and every jump still makes me smile, beam, and giggle like a giddy boy and adrenaline-pumped man who…again…cheated death.

But what I didn’t count on in becoming an avid and regular skydiver was the *FAMILY* that would adopt and envelope me, and the one I would accept, gladly and gleefully, into my life. There is a certain bond, stout ties that bind that come from being a skydiver. There is a spontaneous camaraderie that connects skydivers, no matter their culture, country, or creed. I have traveled the world skydiving in foreign countries with foreigners foreign even to the country in which I jumped, and jumped with peoples of all types, shapes, and sizes. It is exactly the nearly instantaneously bonded brotherhood (and sisterhood) between skydivers which has become one of the more precious commodities in my own personal life. I simply can’t imagine my life without skydiving, but more-so and more to the heart of the matter, without my skydiver friends and family. In fact, the hardest part of leaving America for Japan this time around is leaving this facet of my family, a group of like-minded people who happen to share such a durable and lasting love of a communal sport.

The Best Dang Jump Pilot Around

The Best Dang Jump Pilot Around

In the jump plane at the two-minute warning prior to jump, we skydivers in the aircraft do all our last-minute checks of gear and cameras and whatnot, and then we do something habitual and ritualistic: we literally say “goodbye” to each other. Most people may think our gestures of swiping fingers of one hand against another’s and then fist-bumping as analogous to pretty much any other other type of sportsmanlike focusing of energy and/or celebration of achievement, and that’s true.

Debbie & Jim at Our Wedding, 2011

Debbie & Jim at Our Wedding, 2011

To a point. In a “sport” where bad things can happen (and happen fast) if you don’t act faster (and properly), skydivers know…and accept…that each jump could be their last. As much as we are saying “have a GREAT jump” to each other, we are also saying our goodbyes. Yet they are goodbyes full of excitement and impulsive smiles, goodbyes emoted by an undeniable comradeship.

Me and Jim

Me and Jim

I had a specific ritual with Jimmy, however. Since I am an “up-jumper,” and usually am doing group skydives that necessitates me exiting the aircraft early and often as the first group out, and since Jimmy is almost always doing a tandem or has a student as an instructor, both of which necessitate him leaving the aircraft almost last, we are seldom mutually arranged to where we can say a proper and physical goodbye. For some reason, years and years ago, I adopted a ceremonial goodbye that I do whenever Jimmy and I are on the same plane, and one I only do with Jimmy. I call out loudly and with some forcefulness, “JIMMY!!!” Jim would stop whatever he was doing (usually), and look at me with a smile. I would gesture a la Meet the Fockers mime of “I’m watching you” by taking two fingers of one hand, pointing to my eyes, then pointing to him, and repeating.. Sometimes he would respond in kind, sometimes he would say something that I could NEVER hear (he was too soft-spoken), but he would, without fail, smile in acknowledgement of our shared esprit de corps.

Jim takes Jody on Her First Skydive, Nov 2012

Jim takes Jody on Her First Skydive, Nov 2012

Living out loud through cheating death (my personal characterization mind you, not the community’s), however, sometimes comes at a terrible, almost intolerable,

Japanese Funerary Traditional Card

Traditional Japanese Sympathy Card

and utterly incomprehensible price.

My friend, skydiving mentor, and fellow veteran did not survive a mishap this past weekend. The details of what went wrong and who’s to blame are all quite inconsequential; after his death was confirmed, the wind was literally taken from beneath my wings. And although I no longer had the euphoric desire to “cheat death” again during what was my last skydiving weekend in the states, and after telling everyone I was calling it a day and packing up for the drive home, I suddenly found an inner voice and strength telling me to make a jump. For and in honor of Jimmy. I felt Jim there telling me to “make the jump,” urging me on with his smile mentally impressed upon my mind’s eye.

I believe it is and what he wanted.

Japanese Funerary Black Crane Origami

Funerary Origami Crane

So I organized an impromptu memorial jump in honor of Jimmy. After we were ensured that the local news media van, camera and reporter were buttoned up and put away, eleven of us got together and briefed a very simple jump. And we brought our hands in and I spoke a for a couple minutes on behalf of Jimmy, for his skydiving family, that we all dream today like it’s your first, but live today like it’s your last. Because it very well might be. The commentary was short; most of us were too choked up to continue.

Impromptu Memorial Skydive, 3 August 2013

Impromptu Memorial Skydive, 3 August 2013

Jumping or Jimmy over Gold Coast, Lumberton, MS

Jumping or Jimmy over Gold Coast, Lumberton, MS

Memorial Jump for Jimmy

Memorial Jump for Jimmy

One of my most cherished pieces of prose to which I turn during trying times like these is Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann. It helped me immensely through my divorce, through some troubles early in my relationship with Jody, and oddly enough (and the clearer connection here), it showed up one day in the absolute last place I ever thought I would encounter it – my home Dropzone where I jumped most weekends with Jim. Dropzones simply are generally not known for their cerebral acumen, nor for very high EQ quotients. Seeing it there left adrift on the counter at manifest moved me in ways that no way, less Jody, probably can understand.

So, I leave my thoughts and reflections of my love for sport and Jim who made it all so very worthwhile, let alone possible, and with Desiderata in the hopes that it inspires you to contemplate, perhaps more deeply and a bit more sincerely, your own personal experience with a profound loss. And quite possibly you’ll find a small measure of charmed comfort at the same time.

You see, in the end, and even though it may not be clear to us, The Universe Unfolds How It Should…. The Desiderata:

Round Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Jim's Spirited Shadow Will Always Be Close Beside Me

Jim’s Spirited Shadow Will Always Be Close Beside Me