A swimming buddy yesterday related a story that he had only heard from his 87-year-old father about eight years ago:
His father had enlisted in the infantry in 1943, after his freshman year of college, and was sent to fight in Europe with the 104th Mountain Division -- the Timber Wolves. He was supposed to have been part of a two man Browning Automatic Rifle team, but when the Army found out that he was an engineering major, they turned him into the Company radio man. Because of this, he was usually positioned fifty yards behind the front line, which often meant the difference between life and death.
The Timber Wolves, based in Holland and Germany, fought in the Battle of the Bulge as well as in many other lesser known battles of WWII. The soldiers in his Company got to the point where they could tell just from the sound which shells were going to land close by and which weren't. One day my friend's father and his unit were walking along a road when they heard a mortar, then the ominous whistling which meant that a shell was about to land nearby. The entire unit jumped into a nearby bomb crater. Then the shell exploded.
When my friend's father looked up, he saw that every single other man in his unit had been killed. He realized he had to deliver the bad news to headquarters, so he unstrapped the radio -- radios were cumbersome affairs back in those days -- from his back. When he tried to contact headquarters, he found that the radio didn't work. A quick examination revealed the reason: it was riddled with shrapnel.
The radio had saved his life.
By the end of the war, that young man was the only one out of the 200 men in his Company who hadn't been either killed or wounded.
If it hadn't been for that radio, my swimming buddy would never have been born, nor his children, and so on. All of human history, of course, is filled with stories like this. Some people die, and some survive and procreate. And so much of what happens is just a matter of luck.
It's impossible to hear a story like this, though, and not marvel at the hand of Fate.