Battles won and lost

Battles, often not of one's choosing, arise in war. And in peace.

Seventy-seven years and three months ago (June 4, 1942), 46 young men took off from Midway Atoll in the Pacific to engage a massive, oncoming Japanese fleet. Those enemy ships and planes were bent on invading Midway, capturing its airfield and other military assets and using them to extend Japan's defensive perimeter... and possibly attacking U.S., targets (Hawaii, the Panama Canal, the West Coast.)

Included in the first direct assault on the Japanese fleet were four torpedo-equipped B-26 bombers, each flown by an Army Air Force pilot assisted by a co-piIot and five crew members This group included Montanan Jim Muri, at the controls of plane No 1391, better known as Susie-Q.

Almost simultaneously six Navy Avenger torpedo planes, each carrying a pilot and two gunners, took off from Midway. When that first skirmish finished, 16 fliers, 14 Army and two Navy, got back to Midway. AAF survivors were Muri and his men, along with those aboard the B-26 flown by Squadron Commander Jim Collins.

That 50 percent survival rate bettered the fate of the Navy men. Just two of 18 men (11 percent), pilot Albert Earnest and teenage gunner Harry Ferrier, got back alive. American deaths in one small slice of the three-day-battle totaled 30 (a 65-percent rate). All were lost at sea, shot down by antiaircraft fire, their bodies never recovered.

Without minimizing the sacrifice of those Greatest Generation members, which helped win one of the greatest naval battles in history, I find myself reflecting on another battle hearing its finish. That's my wife's fight against incurable brain cancer. Carolyn was diagnosed with glioblastoma in late March. We received outstanding medical care. First came brain surgery at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Then came six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, delivered by Bozeman's excellent Cancer Center.

Nothing stopped Carolyn's enemy.

Her fighting spirit gone, she opted for end-of-life hospice care. That’s gone on for a month in an assisted living facility in our hometown of Belgrade, Montana.

Fortunately, Carolyn signed a final directive earlier that specified she wanted only comfort care. I've done the same. We both want to die with dignity, without a profusion of tubes pumping medicine and food into our bodies, without gee-whiz medical devices constantly buzzing and beeping next to our beds.

I’m a healthy 68-year-old by the way, as attested by a recent physical exam. But death is part of the human ex­perience, and we want to meet it on our own terms.

Carolyn likely only has a couple days more to live before her death at a young 62. Then we'll have cremation and a memorial service for her at our church in Bozeman and when I die, hopefully a couple decades or more from now, our ashes will be scattered together at a couple sites in this wonderful state we've called home our entire life.

For me, life will go on. A writer must write, and enough ideas for several more books are clamoring for attention in my brain. The first writing project, hower, will be a direct tribute to the splendid storyteller and school librarian I married 18 years ago this past June. Using Siri on her phone, Carolyn was able to dictate the skeleton of a children's story I’ve heard her tell for years.

An illustrated book with text she created plus my embellishment, is in the works. The author will be Carolyn Gaub, assisted by Dennis Gaub. And my hope is to donate proceeds from the sale of this book to a cause befitting my wife's passion: helping youngsters become better readers and lovers of books.

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