Article Date: 8/1/2008

Things Could Have Been Worse
lessons learned

Things Could Have Been Worse

Why complain about the trials that life hands you?


They told me to cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.

At my age, I thought I'd learned just about every lesson life has to offer. But recently I had an experience that taught me a new lesson, namely: "Don't complain about the problems life hands you. Things could have been worse!"

During World War II, I served aboard an attack transport ship, the USS Newberry. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, carrying Second Division Marines, we participated in the invasion of Okinawa. Recently I searched the Internet for any information about my ship and this battle. The search referred me to a chapter in an online book written by one of the Second Marines.1 In it, he wrote of an experience while aboard my ship:

Invasion day

"We arrived at the island of Okinawa the first day of April," said the author, "aboard the USS Newberry. Just as first light was breaking, I went topside to see what was going on. I opened the hatch and stepped out on deck just in time to see a Japanese Kamikaze suicide plane diving on our ship. Not only was the plane almost there, it was lined up exactly on me. Without thinking, I swept my right arm wide, giving the pilot a wave-off.

"It worked! He pulled up and flew past just barely overhead. He flew right through some of our rigging and was so low I could clearly see his face, and our eyes made contact in that brief period. He then rolled over and went into the side of another ship, the USS Telfair, about a half mile away, causing a tremendous explosion."

"I opened the hatch just in time to see a Kamikaze plane diving on our ship."

Why did it work?

"I have often wondered why my wave-off was successful," the book's author continued. "I think it was because it was such a surprise to the pilot that he reacted before he had a chance to think. A similar situation would be if you were driving down the street and someone suddenly stepped in front of your car. You would automatically jerk the steering wheel to the side before even realizing you had done so.

"There is an interesting sequel to this story. Years later, a group of fellow police officers were telling war stories, and I related this one. One of men present exploded. It turned out he was a gunner on the Telfair, the ship that was hit. He said they saw the Kamikaze diving on the Newberry, then inexplicably pull up and go into their ship. He had never known before why it happened. Their ship was severely damaged, with many killed, but did not sink. Both Salem (Oregon) newspapers heard about it and each ran a long article about the incident, complete with pictures."

63 years later

After reading his story, I began an email correspondence with the writer. When he discovered my General Quarters station was in the radar room, he wrote me to tell me he was quite certain that he had saved my life. "I was on the deck right below the bridge and radar room. The Kamikaze was headed directly toward that spot, and would have demolished the area had it not veered away."

Discovering for the first time my close brush with death 63 years ago, somehow made my present problems seem a lot less significant. Things could have been worse! OM

1One Man's View is an online book that chronicles the experiences of Leonard Skinner during World War II. The book is available at


Optometric Management, Issue: August 2008