Shot Down!
previous next

“Shot Down!” New Era, Aug. 2006, 24–26

Shot Down!

Excerpted from Believe! Helping Youth Trust in the Lord (2003)

My situation had gone from bad to worse. That’s when prayer saved my life.

In 1965 I headed to Vietnam for my third tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force. We were flying combat missions just about every day, with our squadron’s F-100 Super Sabers taking small arms hits regularly. In this environment, I easily developed faithful habits of prayer, and I found strength in knowing that my family back home was praying regularly for my safe and speedy return.

Looking back, I can see clearly that these prayers helped build a protective shield around me. I felt this protection especially on the morning of March 30, 1966. About halfway through a mission, I noticed that my fire warning light had lit up. I had been hit! I was in trouble, so I headed east toward the nearest friendly airfield.

I was feeling pretty good about things until my wingman told me that I was burning badly, with flames trailing several feet behind the aircraft. A moment later, the aircraft quit responding to the control stick. It was time to bail out. I squeezed the trigger, firing the ejection seat charge. It fired much more violently than I had expected, but at least I was separated from the burning F-100.

As soon as I ejected, things quickly went from bad to worse. The jolt of the ejection put me into a rapid, head-over-heels tumble. The tumble was so violent that I couldn’t think through the remainder of my memorized emergency procedures. My only clear thought at the time was that the human body was not built to withstand such violence. I expected an arm or a leg to be torn off at any minute!

I finally calmed down enough to recall a parachute free-fall training film I had seen just before my deployment to Vietnam. An image soon became crystal clear in my mind: Spread eagle to slow down and stabilize. As I responded to the image, which I knew was an answer to the many prayers that had been offered in my behalf, I immediately stopped spinning and tumbling. I was then able to concentrate on other pressing matters—like opening my parachute! If it had opened automatically, I wouldn’t have found myself tumbling with such violence.

My mind then cleared further, as if a small TV screen had appeared before me, outlining the rest of the critical emergency procedures I needed to remember. Check chute. I didn’t have one. If no chute, pull D-ring. The D-ring is the rip cord, which I quickly pulled. Immediately the parachute popped out and filled with air to break my fall. Deploy seat kit. I pulled the lanyard to release the heavy, hard-shelled survival kit that was strapped to my seat. No luck. The kit stayed attached, hanging dangerously behind my thighs.

Later, in my debrief of the ejection, a flight surgeon told me that in every case he knew of, an undeployed seat kit had resulted in a crushed pelvis. I was thankful I was not aware of this grim statistic as I floated toward the earth.

I hadn’t realized that Vietnam was in its dry season, and the soft rice field I expected when I landed was concrete hard. I hit my head on the ground and was briefly knocked unconscious. Fortunately, I had kept my helmet on throughout the ejection.

When I recovered, I unstrapped myself from my parachute and took a quick inventory. I had no broken bones and saw no enemy troops, but I knew I had landed in hostile territory controlled by the Vietcong. Within 30 minutes an Army helicopter arrived, picked me up, and flew me to my intended destination.

When I finally came down from my adrenalin high and could focus on all that had happened, I became immediately aware of the divine intervention that had occurred in my life. I had experienced major equipment problems: neither the automatic feature on my parachute nor the survival kit release system had worked. My spinning had prevented me from thinking clearly until mind-clearing images came to me. And I had landed safely and been rescued from hostile, Vietcong-held territory. In short, it was clear that my prayers and those of my family had been answered in a remarkable fashion.

In the New Testament, the Savior makes an incredible promise when he states: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14). He will also respond to your sincere, heartfelt prayers.

Trusting in the Lord with prayers of faith and humility can work wonders in your life. The Lord hears such prayers, and, in His own time and in His own way, He responds—maybe not immediately or in the exact manner you expect, but always in a way most beneficial to you. His perfect love for you will let Him do no less.

Illustration by Paul Mann