Tuesday, October 21, 2014


And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It was so beautiful.*

There’s been a fair amount of reflection underway here since I read Sarge’s post about the loss of a tree.  His sentimentality in that loss is understandable, and he’s not alone in that type of thinking.

I haven’t always been as introspective as I am now.  During a particularly challenging phase in flight training, I was struggling to keep up.  An instructor recommended listening to some self-help tapes put out by Anthony Robbins.  I instantly discounted that advice as I couldn’t for a moment consider sitting down and quietly listening to myself, much less a personal development guru.  That type of self-motivation was not for me then, but I suppose I would be more open to it today if I felt it was necessary.

My taste in entertainment has changed from when I was younger as well.  Going to a movie or watching a rental over pizza was once more to my liking, but I can’t remember the last time we did that.  Going to a play would have bored me in my 20s, but now pushing past middle age, my wife and I visit a local theater on a regular basis.  I’ve also shed most concern about what others might think of me, gaining a level of confidence from that attitude.  Additionally, I’ve learned to relax, not always rushing around, taking the slow lane at times, both literally and figuratively.

As my wife and I get older, we are starting to see a few minor health issues pop up, mainly for me, but I know that’s par for the course.  However, we’re fortunate to have good and affordable health care.  We’ve talked about being empty-nesters as our kids are also getting older; In a couple years the teenangster will be off to whatever Art School she impresses the most, and eventually our son will be out of the house as we help him to become more independent.  While my wife has already had to deal with the kids not needing her as much, having a house to ourselves also means we’ll be able to travel more.  With maturity also comes a mortgage with an end in sight, and greater savings with which to do more for ourselves.  While these changes that come with age may at first be unwanted or unwelcome, they are part of a life that also brings about positive aspects. 

Then again…

I don’t know the demographics of the readers here at Chez Sarge, but I doubt the Millennials are represented in force.  Middle to later-aged folks is what I’d expect.  For that group, it’s also the time in life where we start experiencing more loss.  Statistically speaking, we have met or we know more people, we’ve seen our fair share of car accidents, know those who have had heart attacks, breast cancer, etc.  So it’s hard to get past middle-age without knowing someone in your inner or outer circles who have gone from this life.  Within Naval Aviation, the statistics are only surpassed by ground forces I would expect.

Warning:  Graphic Video

Another that I can't seem to upload:  here  

What losses have I experienced?  I’ve seen the breakup of my parent’s marriage, which actually was a good thing for her and us;  Later, my mom dying from cancer.  Several pets have come and gone in my life, including one that was such a part of the family that it hurt very much.  Still does if I think about it. 

I’ve always had pets, but our Beagle Molly grew up with my children and had such a personality that she is greatly missed.  We only had her until she was 10, a brain tumor taking her from us.  Her buddy, our rescued Jack Russell is still here at 16 years old, and he’s seemingly forgotten her now.  With that loss, that he’s been able to assume the mantle of Alpha Dog in his pack of one.  He’s a lucky one, living over three times as long as he would have had we not adopted him moments before he was to be put down in the Hillsborough County Shelter.

There’s been the loss of a few shipmates, like Graham Higgins with whom I went through Flight School.  He was in the back of a VF-213 Tomcat which crashed into an apartment building in Tennessee when his pilot was trying to show off.  

Scott Zellem, another flight school classmate whose VS-35 S-3B Viking crew crashed into a mountain in the Western Pacific. 

Z-Man on the President's left.

The crew memorialized.
And of course, Lex.

Some of these losses we expect.  Naval Aviation is an inherently dangerous sport.  Being an Infantry Soldier is even more so, especially during wartime.  Someone dying on the battlefield or in an aviation mishap is something we know will happen sooner or later.  So while we’re saddened when it comes, we know it’s a risk that comes with the job.

My mother had been a smoker since her teens; heavy smoker later in life during a stressful stretch at work and the troubles within her marriage.  After the divorce, she quit smoking and hadn’t picked up a cigarette for 14 years before the cancer came, but the damage had been done.  That was a sad loss of course, but it dragged out for a bit and we knew it was coming after our confidence in medical science, a confidence gained from her being a nurse, started to fade.

Fall has finally arrived here in San Diego, with cool, but comfortable nights.  I love the crispness in the air, but will miss the warmth of Summer.  The inevitableness of the situation with my mother also came like that change in seasons, slowly, but it couldn't be stopped, and yet I was conflicted in how I felt about that.  I was, of course, sad to see the end, but I knew it was better for her, and so I almost looked forward to the end so she would be relieved of her suffering.   

My shipmates, none truly close to me, I mourn briefly.  Lex is sorely missed though.  However, that is different from the more personal loss like a parent.  However, since we knew the cancer was taking my mother away, and that her death offered her respite, that loss too seems different.

So as I reflect on both my life and this post, I realize that with age comes some wisdom, hopefully some wealth, maybe a bit of sophistication or varied interests, but also varied degrees of loss.  However, one loss that we’re not supposed to experience is the death of a child.

Unfortunately, I have.  No, not my own child, nor a direct family member, but the 12 year old son of a very close family friend and brother-in-arms- a Marine Corps Pilot.  He was the older brother of my Godson, and the loss hurts deeply.  It was a horrible accident just over a week ago, and I can’t imagine how my friends are coping.  They have a deep faith and take some consolation from it, but I’m sure it doesn’t stop them from replaying the day over and over, doing it differently each time, trying to prevent what occurred.

While I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, being quite happy with my current state of affairs, I would like to go back and somehow change what happened that day, saving my friends from such grief.

This is the song sung at his memorial service.  It's a cover of Hillsong United's "Oceans."It's a beautiful song and it was an excellent choice by his sister, because in Hawaii, where his family grew up, his name means Ocean.

Farewell Kai, we'll miss you and life is a little less bright without you in it.

*Scene and quote from Forrest Gump


  1. I smoked for many years before giving it up. It was part and parcel of a life that I thought would be over soon. Alas, I passed through that phase of life unscathed. I will probably live forever. It is my little sister, who never smoked or did ought but live life cleanly and well who is suffering from cancer. I took her to dinner with Lex and Mary long ago in Del Mar. I figured she was a popular published author, her husband a noted author, and just maybe they could convince Lex to publish. Instead, they spent the whole evening talking with Lex and Mary about France...oh, and Ursula Andress.
    It would be nice if the site of Lex was restored but I can also see why it is gone. Memory is a killer.

  2. Any loss is hard, the loss of a young one especially so... May he RIP, and the family take solace that he's gone to a better place.

  3. I had a post prepared, then while checking e-mail I saw a comment (the one above from the good Cap'n) on a post that didn't seem familiar. Because it was this post, brand new since last night.

    It's a beautiful post Tuna. Heartfelt, sincere and starkly real.

    That last bit, I'm feeling you there. Something that no parent should have to go through. Yet it happens.

    Not long ago, a buddy of mine from Germany lost his son. Though he and his life live far from us now, I felt something in his post on Facebook regarding the event.

    Shattered describes it as well as any world.

    With two kids in Naval Aviation it's something I try to keep locked in a cage deep in my brain. Every time someone goes in, you hear about it, then you start making calls, trying to ascertain that everyone is okay.

    Prayers for Kai and his family.

  4. Rest in Peace, Kai.

    Excellent Post, Tuna.

  5. "...one loss that we’re not supposed to experience..."
    Nothing really consoles us, no matter what the cause.
    Time dulls the pain.
    But I remember like it was yesterday.

    When others suffer that loss, all we can say is, "I'm so sorry."

  6. Here's the beautiful eulogy his mother gave: "Thank you, all of you, for coming today. Our community has drawn tightly around us and our family’s every need has been provided. I know this is what God desires, for His people to become to become Him with skin on, and to put their arms around each other. We can honestly say we have been carried by all your prayers, and we are so thankful. It feels weird to call this a celebration, but if you knew Kai, that makes sense. He was a celebration of life himself.
    Right now, I want to tell the young people here especially something very important. As you leave today, we have some orange wristbands that read “You are not replaceable.” Kai is not replaceable. He was one of God’s unique creations, and we learned from him. Parents don’t admit this really often, but we learn a lot from our kids. And Kai taught us three things, really.
    First, be generous. If Kai had money in his pocket, it was burning a hole. He loved to buy little gifts, whether it was candy from the snack table at CFS or toys at Target. Kai was generous with his time and his knowledge. He was always ready to teach a new move at jiu Jitsu, to show someone how to solve the Rubik’s cube, or to demonstrate a card trick. He was an easy conversationalist and would extend himself to anybody, whether it was a young person or a grown up. A year after we went to Tijuana, Kai was still talking about the families we helped with the Build a Miracle project. Kai was happy when he was helping.
    Second, be genuine. Romans 12: 9-10 tells us “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.” Kai loved genuinely. He was a snuggler and a hugger and had no problem showing his affection. Kai was also a geek, and he owned it. He loved My Little Pony, Dr. Who, Clash of the Clans, doing origami, learning magic tricks, telling corny jokes, solving algebra problems, and reading science fiction books. He wore his “Brony” shirt with pride. He was happy with what he was and who he was.
    James 1:2 says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy.” Kai was joyful. So lastly, young people, be joyful. Not fakey happy, not pretending, but truly joyful. Kai laughed with his whole body. When he was excited about something, he would literally hop around. He danced like no one was watching. He sang a little off key, but loudly. His laugh was a mixture of chortling and giggling, and he would hold his sides when he laughed really hard. You wanted to be around Kai because he was happy kid, and it was easy to want to be in that light. We will never understand why Kai made the choice he did, but I know this: it was one moment of darkness in a lifetime of light.
    Kai’s heritage was both American and Chinese. He had green eyes, and sandy colored hair, and he loved Chinese food, chicken feet most of all. Kai would try anything once. As you leave today, you’ll receive a paper-wrapped coin, lycee, to thank you for coming here today to celebrate Kai. You’ll also receive a piece of candy. The Chinese belief is that it takes the bitterness from the mouth. Truth be told, Kai ate candy like it’s cool, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to know you’re having some, too.
    Please, leave today remembering to be generous, to be genuine and to be joyful. Remember that you are not replaceable. We know Kai will never be replaced, and that he still lives because of his faith in our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We know Kai is celebrating now with family who has gone ahead of him. If there is a Costco in heaven, Kai is riding his bike over right now hoping to score some samples. He’s doing magic tricks and jiu Jitsu takedowns. He’s laughing with his whole body, probably at some quick comeback he just made, and we know with assurance that he is happy."

  7. Tuna . . .
    Love this post.
    You're playin' my life here too.
    Lost my Mom to lung cancer. She'd given up cigarettes once . . . took up the habit, again, years later when her mother was in the hospital for brain surgery . . . "Stress" she said. Both my wife and I gave up smoking back in 2000. Since that time, we've lost every single friend who continued to smoke.
    As to the loss of a child . . . my stepson died, suddenly, of cardiac arrest at age 46. He was a picture of health . . . a strapping man who never smoked, drank in moderation, was athletic and dropped dead after testing for his black belt in Karate. Said death ripples through the family yet today. It colors all our actions and dwells in all our relationships. Prayers are offered for your friends.
    . . . and for you too.

  8. My condolences to your friends and you on the loss of their son. Terrible.

    The rest of the post is pretty much what happens to us all when we get to be "of a certain age." I never really thought I'd be given to so much reflection in my old age, but there it is.

  9. From day one of WOFT we were taught that our sole purpose was to support the American taxpayer's most valuable asset, the private in the foxhole. Twenty seven years and thousands of hours later, far too many fellow army aviator's memorials attended, and the priority had not changed. A soulful tribute Tuna. RIP fellow soldier. respectfully, Alemaster

    1. Thanks Alemaster, and everybody else. This was something completely different for me so I felt like this was a good outlet.

  10. Reflections indeed. Your post, as most similar discussions do, instantly took me back to a lot of places. I wanted to be a NAC swimmer/corpsman because it was so cool, and it was all of that and more, but the downside could be pretty grim. There wasn't much training on dealing with death back then, and I'm not sure training would have helped a lot. When our fellow humans depart they're gone for good and not coming back, and the experience of that reality is far, far different than any intellectual knowledge. About two hours after reading your post I got the news that my father in law had died suddenly (kind of a goofy coincidence). Eighty and in reasonably good health, a former Air Force wrench turner who was stationed at Wheelus in his salad days, he passed unexpectedly but peacefully in his sleep. Father of five and a man who had borne the unfathomable loss of two of those children. So the best way to go, no suffering, no dreadful lead in, just gone. We'll miss him a lot. The world is a better place because of his existence, and that's a comfort.

    1. Not a bad way to go. I hope I'm that lucky.


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