Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Learning from a Harley

One of the stories my father told me about his war experiences happened after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor but before they began their full assault on the Philippine Islands. After the order came to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula, he and another soldier he only remembered as Jackson were told by their commanding officer to go to a town called Olongapo about two hours away to see if there was anything there useful for their impending defense of Bataan. There they found a brand new Harley Davidson parked with no one anywhere around. After checking it over a man did come out of a building and asked my father if he knew how to ride "that thing." My father responded, "No, but I'm gonna learn." And so he did.

Dad left Jackson and took the Harley for a spin. He figured out the throttle, gears and brakes. He got a little overconfident, though, and was speeding around a corner when he suddenly came upon a sandbag embankment. He had learned how to ride, but not well enough to stop quickly. He overplayed the brakes and went flying over the embankment. God's grace abounds. He got up and was not seriously injured. His determination also abounded. He got back on the Harley and continued to survey the town to see what else might be worth taking. Nothing. He circled back to where he had left Jackson standing. Now they realized they had a problem in taking the Harley back. The small bridge into Olongapo had already been blown. There was enough left of it to walk across but not enough to drive a motorcycle across. The determination ran deep in my father. He and Jackson found some lumber and began to build a ramp. They had seen this done in the movies many times over much wider flows of water. Certainly they could do this over this small 20-30 foot flow. Somehow, amazing as it may sound, they succeeded in building a small ramp. My dad described the rest of the story with frustration still apparent in his voice. He said that he "took a run" at the ramp three times and every time "chickened out" just before hitting it. Perhaps it was the bruising from flipping over the embankment, or perhaps it was the fatigue of a long day without food. All the determination in the world could not get that Harley across the river. Jackson and my father decided they did not want to leave this beautiful machine for the Japanese to use. So they pulled the plugs and ran it into the river.

My father learned from that Harley much more than just how to ride it. He learned both the possibilities and limits of his determination. This lesson would be repeated over and over again during the next four years, particularly during his three and a half years as a prisoner of war. There were "Harleys" everywhere he turned--things that he was able to use to survive and some that he had to learn to let go of in order to survive. His determination was important in both cases. To survive required determination to overcome obstacles but it
also required determination not to allow seemingly insurmountable obstacles to have the last say. My father learned a lot from that Harley. And so have I.

I am my father's daughter. I have found Harley's in my life, too. Some I have been able to acquire and use. These experiences have built my confidence. Others I have had to turn away from. Determination can easily become stubbornness. These experiences have taught me humility and have served to teach me to trust God who always finds another way to move me forward.

This story is taken from the book, Forged By War: A daughter shaped by a WWII POW story. Available this spring.

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