What was the bravest thing I have ever done?
Have I ever really been brave? What is brave?
By George Clever
Only old men and women are brave. Young men and women think they will never die and act accordingly. Old men and women know they will die and act accordingly. They are then brave and courageous.
I started this piece thinking about the times and places where I have been when someone might think I had been brave. Maybe, I might even think I was brave at that moment. Perhaps to be brave one has to first be afraid.
That part is easy for me. As a small kid with glasses enduring many school boy fights, and subject to every disease walking into my life, I have often been afraid. My fears motivated my joining the Marines. Marines are not afraid. At
least the recruiting posters implied it was so. In a shipboard training jump we were to climb the skinny ladder to the top of a three story hanger and jump into a pool as one would do if the ship was sinking. One of the hard asses who gave all us recruits
trouble was in front of me on the ladder. Reaching the top just before the jump he panicked and crawled over all of us down the ladder to get to the bottom. The rest of us skinny guys finished the climb and jumped. I don’t think we
were afraid and I am sure we did not think we would die. We did not think we would die when we climbed aboard a helicopter for a jungle drop or when a grenade accidentally went off four ranks over from where we sat. Young Marine men on Higgins
boats (LCVPs) did not believe they would be the ones to die as they landed on the shores of Saipan or Inchon Korea. Men on point in Nam jungles did not think they would die. Old men and veterans knew they might die and they were afraid. It
made them brave.
If I am to answer the question what is the bravest thing I have ever done. I would first ask have I ever been brave. If so when and where? Was I brave when I went with my cousin’s son
looking in Laos for the plane wreckage where his father was lost in the Vietnam War? My cousin was one of ten men in his air crew listed as M.I.A. The military failed to locate the EC-47 airplane wreck and complete recovery of crew remains or account
for those taken captive. No, I had lived a long life at age 75 and was not afraid of the jungle, Laotian bandits or leaches.
Was it an act of bravery as I rode with my sons in our motorhome through heavy rain ten
minutes in front of a mile wide Oklahoma tornado? No, fear was missing. My sons wanted to see a tornado. Was it during two out of body experiences, one during a fire fight and one during a house fight with a Palestinian over a heart pumping,
blonde woman librarian? No. Well maybe the out of body stuff should have tipped me off that I was afraid. Only afterward did I understand the fears following me from kid days were conquered.
Was I brave when
my brothers and I faced the Border Patrol and U.S. Marshall’s guns at the take-over of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement? We drove past cars with Indian bumper stickers rolled in the road ditch and riddled with bullet holes. Our
car trailed a cloud of dirt road dust as we rounded a curve into the waiting guns pointed in our open windows. No, we were too young and dumb to understand our limitations, the dangers, and issues that brought American Indians into conflict again with
the federal military. Perhaps I was brave when stranded in Copan, Honduras at the Maya ruin as night approached and everyone had guns but my good friend and Marine Dr. Rudy and me. No, I was not brave. Rudy stopped a bus and got us out of
there. Maybe it was the airplane trip into the mountains of the city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras where my pilot friend said out loud, “Oh! I would not do that.” His comment created a cloud of fear for me as the 747 commercial pilot made
his approach landing. It wasn’t our time to die.
This writing assignment is in conflict with Native American Indian sensibilities. Indians were often called braves in translation
it meant warrior or one who faces danger with courage. There is a spiritual understanding among Native Americans that life is a circle of beginnings and endings. Every day is a good day to die if the circumstances warrant it. If an Indian
performs a courageous act it is not acceptable in his culture to boast of his bravery to others in his community. Just as in military service, it is others who offer up the praise with a medal commendation or honoring. So I leave the decision of
my bravest act to those who know me best. If there is one event I would have them examine it would be the way I am to face my declining years as a Lenape elder. As Betty Davis said, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” Parts
don’t work. Parts fall off. Eyes do dim. Hearing fades. Muscles fail to meet their task. Joints hurt. Legs at time do not stand and walk. In these circumstances it is in facing each day with a goal and a purpose
that becomes the bravest thing one can do. Here are a few of my wife’s suggestions for your consideration. 1.) Allowing your teenage sons to drive your RV down I-49 with Oklahoma tornados in the area. 2.) Facing all you did as a single
parent being strong for your boys while dealing with personal grief. 3.) Marrying at the age of 75 and bringing a young child into your home with her own physical challenges to overcome. Now I ask you to choose.