Reformation Lutheran Church A Congregation of the ELCA

Monday, April 10

Pondering the Mystery

In 1969, I was stationed at Atsugi Naval Air Base in Japan. I flew reconnaissance missions in an EC-121 (Willy Victor) aircraft in the Gulf of Tonkin in Viet Nam. Sometimes, when we weren’t “down south,” we would fly missions in the Sea of Japan.

Each crew was assigned to a specific aircraft. On April 15, my crew and plane were scheduled for a mission but, since our plane was undergoing repairs, another crew took the mission. While in flight over the Sea of Japan, this replacement crew and plane were shot out of the sky by the North Koreans. All 31 crew members perished. The North Koreans claimed we violated their air space, but U.S. data indicated that the plane was at least 90 nautical miles from the shore.

Many times I have told the story. How lucky that my plane needed repairs, keeping me off the mission. But compare my experience to one of another Navy enlisted man who was running late that day. He ran onto the tarmac as the plane was taxiing to the runway. The plane stopped, dropped a ladder, and he climbed onto the unfortunate flight.

Did I have good luck or did my fellow sailors have incredibly bad luck? Or was it luck at all? Why them and not me? Every day we find stories of events that cannot be explained. Why did this happen here and not there? Why were some people harmed and others spared?

Was this God’s plan? I don’t think so. I think my brothers being shot out of the sky was a horrible tragedy, one I will never get over. But God did not plan it. Where was God? God was with my brothers on that flight, as God always is, holding them and loving them as the plane descended into the depths of the Sea of Japan. God was with all of us at Atsugi that day when we heard the horrible news. God was with the families and friends of those who perished.

That seems mysterious to me, but somehow comforting. I was saved from death. My brothers were not. The shooting down of my brothers’ aircraft makes me mad, sad, confused, guilty (because it should have been me and my crew). I wish God had prevented this malicious action, but I know we humans were responsible. Yet, knowing that God was with them comforts me. Through this and all tragedy, God was and is with us.

So, what do I do with this? I remember my brothers daily. I thank God for the life given me. I ponder this mystery, and I am grateful for the chance to do God’s work with God’s people. Mysterious: horror and joy all mixed together, with God making all things good. Each morning my prayer includes the words, “thank you for the privilege of being a part of this day.”

David Dorf

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