If you've never felt like a bug on a body of water, experience the grasp of a rip-tide. No....on second thought, don't do that.
The year was 1984. That date was November 14th. The place was Okinawa, Japan. How could I remember? Well, for one thing I wrote it into my Jim Fixx Running Log, but I've never needed the reference. Just the memory. Six of us were swimming at Meida Point when we probably shouldn't have been. A long distance runner at the time, averaging 40 to 55 miles per week, biking around 150 miles a week, snorkling daily, and practicing Okinawan Karate, there I was at the age of 21 feeling very nearly invincible. Until I tried to swim to shore that is.
I have, since then, never experienced such fear. It is my hope, never to go through anything comparible again. The fins on my feet were not enough to help me swim. The tide was coming in. The current was going out. Two opposing currents were tumbling me like a pair of socks in a clothes dryer. I was the ocean's toy. An insignificant insect that mother nature was teaching an important lesson to.
I hollered to my friends for help. I was not as experienced in ocean swimming as I should have been. Mike Walton, my friend, hollered back to swim out to sea and forget trying to swim in. Was he insane? The rolls and swells in the water would go over my head. How long could I hold my breath? Then the wave would pass over me. I would exhale, then inhale another deep breath, just in time for the next wave to pound me to the ground under the water. Fighting with every ounce of my strength yet feeling as powerless as Superman in the presence of Kryptonite, I felt my life flashing before me.
Twelve thousand miles from home. It's the cold war. I'm a soldier, but we aren't supposed to die outside of a battlefield. There are no battlefields, but, I'm not going to make it. I'm going to die out here in the water. My three brothers, one sister, mom and dad, friends, teachers, school, the dairy farm I'd worked on, my running, the road races, the hunting and fishing, everything I knew was flashing through my mind in milli-seconds. This was the end. I'm only 21 but I want to live to be a hundred. It's not fair. I don't want to die like this.
Many people don't believe in Angels. I'm here to tell you that "many people" are wrong. I felt a hand grab mine. It started pulling me out to sea. Oh my God, this is the wrong way. I'll never be able to swim that far. Then the voice. That patient voice instructed me and I listened. I had no choice. My strength was gone. "Put your mask back on Ray. Breath through your snorkle and just lay on top of the water. Once you get some oxygen into you, you'll be okay. I've got you buddy!" Mike Walton pulled me away from the opposing currents. The rip was behind us. He towed me parallel with the shore until we were safe. Almost a quarter of a mile out and four waves took us all the way to shore. I tried to stand and couldn't. I was sapped of all strength. I crawled to shore and just sat on the sand for a solid hour, drinking gatorade and regaining my strength. Mike had saved my life.
Four other witnesses that day. Yet none was a Sergeant or above in rank. It didn't matter to the high brass that my life was nearly lost. It didn't matter to them and to the government that Mike Walton had saved me from the grasp of the ocean. The rules were what they were. He could receive no award or ribbon. He couldn't even be given a letter of appreciation for rescuing a piece of government property. It was all about Standard Operating Procedures and rules. Mike was a master diver and knew exactly what to do. Yet, he was not recognized by anyone but the few of us that were present on that day.
Incidentally, I have since been through Scuba courses and have become a certified diver.
It mattered to me. It always will. I have searched for Mike over the years, unsuccessful in my quest to find my guardian- Angel and thank him once again. Perhaps our Karma is connected and someday we'll cross paths again. Until then, it is important to me that at least a few people know what he did.
Thank you Mike!