Monday, May 25, 2015

War, the Roads, and the Value of Life

Recently I read Unbroken for my women's book group. It made me think about my father, who is pictured below, and it seemed appropriate to write about it on Memorial Day.

WWII Naval Aviator Francis G. Lilly with his mother
Like Louis Zamperini, whose life Unbroken chronicles, my dad was a WWII naval aviator. Dad tried to join the Army and was turned down because he had flat feet. He was then not only accepted by the Navy, but trained to be a pilot. He enlisted just before the Pearl Harbor attack and remained in the service six months after the war ended so he could keep flying. (He commented as an aside once that the Navy nurses really liked getting rides in the planes when he did his flights to keep certification during that time period, but I never could get much more detail about that. Perhaps because my mom was usually around when I was talking with my dad.)

What I didn't understand until I read Unbroken was the great danger to aviators and their crews even when not in combat. Like Zamperini, my dad was stationed in the Pacific. He never said a whole lot about the war, only that he loved flying and that he hadn't seen combat. One of his squadron mates, when I called about my dad’s funeral, told me they had a running joke at the reunion based on my dad setting the record for crashing the most planes during maneuvers. What was left out of that statement, I'm guessing, is that he was the pilot who crashed the most planes and survived. I learned from Unbroken that a high percentage of aviators died training, preparing, and practicing maneuvers--exactly what my dad did during his years in the Navy--regardless whether they flew in battles. I'm sure that percentage is even higher for those stationed on aircraft carriers, as my dad was. After reading the book, I searched Google for my dad's name and found it on a list of Navy and Marine aircraft accidents for which reports have been collected.

Would you like to receive Lisa M. Lilly's e-newsletter with M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) book and film reviews? Your email address will not be shared or sold. Join here.
Dad always made it sound exciting when he talked about parachuting out at the last moment. It never occurred to me to ask him about those who did not make it, and there must have been many, which may be why he didn't talk about his time in the war. I also am guessing that his experience flying and understanding and avoiding danger is part of why he emphasized safety so much when teaching us to drive. I remember him telling me that whenever I was on the road, I should glance at the rear and side view mirrors regularly to be sure I was aware of what other cars were doing. Also, he said, I should assess the traffic around me at all times and mentally prepare for what I would do if someone stopped suddenly, ran out in front of me, or swerved toward me. Always know your escape route.

Unbroken author Laura Hillenbrand quotes an ordnance officer who describes various safety issues with WWII aircraft that resulted in accidental deaths and says, “Life is cheap in war.” According to the statistics in the book, 35,946 personnel in the air corps died in WWII in non-combat situations, mostly in accidental crashes.

My dad, who survived WWII and lived for many years after, was killed at age 88 by a drunk driver, along with my mother, who was 84. According to the NHTSA, in 2007, the year my parents died, intoxicated drivers caused 12,998 deaths. On our streets and highways, too, life is cheap.

So on this Memorial Day, my hope is that as the human race continues to evolve, we will value life more and more, that our roads will be safer, and our battles fewer.

And to all our women and men in the military, then and now, thank you for your service.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her email list.

No comments:

Post a Comment