My Grandpa the War Hero

Today I am going to share a story about my Grandpa – a true American hero. For my whole life I have looked up to my Grandpa and for good reason; he has lived a life that is normally reserved for novels. Successful in life (amazing wife of 64 years, 8 children, 21 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren), business (top life insurance salesman 13 times), athletics (scratch golfer well into his 80’s, starting pitcher for the Gophers, etc.) and served his country in the Pacific in World War 2. I am very close to Grandpa, and was honored to MC his 60th anniversary party in 2008.

When I was younger, Grandpa would tell us grandchildren bedtime stories about his time in the war. He told stories of island hopping in the pacific, using shark teeth as razor blades, almost running out of gas while flying over the pacific ocean and many tales of the lighter side of war. I have fond memories of these stories from my childhood.

As I grew older, Grandpa’s stories became a lot more real. He enrolled in the air force at the age of 17. By 18, he was the anti-aircraft gunner on a B-24 Bomber – one of the most dangerous positions you can hold in the entire war. His unit was stationed in the pacific and he spent time hopping islands like Guam and Okinawa as the US military converged on Japan. He came under fire many times, lost many comrades along the way, and ultimately he persevered.

I knew all of this for some time and learned quite a bit over the past 30 years, to the point that I thought I had heard it all. But the story he told me today beat them all by a longshot.

August 9, 1945. 3 days after the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, the war was still going in the pacific. That day, Grandpa was on a mission that consisted of 48 planes with orders to bomb the harbor in Nagasaki, which was a major base for the Japanese navy. His plane was the lead plane in the formation – the first line of defense.

As they approached the harbor, anti-aircraft guns and Navy ships opened fire on his plane. Naturally, their fire was concentrated on the first plane in the formation, because even if they missed, they had a good chance of hitting the planes behind them. Grandpa was literally the target these guns were aiming for.

Drawing fire from the Japanese Navy and other gun embattlements, their plane was hit several times. Fortunately for Grandpa, he was not among the injured. Unfortunately, the pilot took fire right in the buttocks, in a bloody mess. The co-pilot didn’t fare much better, and he ended up with flak in his neck.

Quick to react, Grandpa left his position to check on the flight crew and didn’t like what he saw. He lifted the pilot from his seat and dressed the wound as best he could on the floor behind the cockpit. Next, he went to the co-pilot, who was naturally picking at the wound in his neck and told him to hold steady and NOT take the shrapnel out of his neck. The co-pilot obliged, but also said that he was incapable of flying the plane. That left Grandpa, 19 years old with no formal flying training, to guide the plane back to Okinawa.

Fortunately, the co-pilot was coherent enough to give instructions, so as Grandpa sat in the pilot seat, he followed the first instructions of “turn right and get the hell out of here.”

Inland Japan was surprisingly pleasant at the time, with no guns shooting at the plane for a few minutes. But the trip wasn’t without incident. August 9th happens to be famous for another incident that occurred in Nagasaki.

Looking forward, Grandpa saw something that few people in the world can claim that they saw. A mushroom cloud that looked like this:

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, so he remarked to the co-pilot “Have you ever seen an atomic bomb?” to which he got a non-response. “Well, look ahead and you’ll see one now.”

With no time to dwell on the sight in front of him, he turned again and headed toward Okinawa. By this time the co-pilot was not doing too well and the color had left his face. It was up to Grandpa and the folks on the other side of the radio to get him in safely.

Miraculously, he was able to fly the plane back to the base with little more than a rough landing. (I asked Grandpa how he knew what to do and he said “for over 30 missions I would watch what the pilots did every moment I had. I knew what to do well enough.”)

When he landed, medical staff and military personnel were waiting for him. The co-pilot survived, but he’s still not sure what happened to the pilot. Grandpa told his story and observations to his superiors, including that he thought he saw an atomic bomb was dropped. “no way” they said – they never heard anything about a second mission to drop an atomic bomb. They had no knowledge of what had happened, and communications had not yet caught up with them.

The next day, he was told that he was right – the bomb was indeed dropped over Nagasaki.

Ironically, three days earlier, after the August 6th bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Grandpa was told that he was going to be sent on a rest and relaxation trip to Australia. Instead, he survived a major incident in world history.

And this wasn’t even his last mission…

The Last Mission

You would think that flying into the face of the atomic bomb would be his last mission, but it was not. Shortly after Japan’s surrender, Grandpa was sent on a mission to see whether the Japanese had truly surrendered. 3 planes flew from Okinawa up the Yangtze river, where many Japanese ships were stationed. They were told to fly above the range of the guns, and then gradually lower altitude to see if they would draw fire from the Japanese ships.

While the Japanese guns followed their every move, no fire came on the planes, so they retreated to the South China Sea on their way back to Okinawa. As they approached the sea, they hit turbulent weather and broke formation. Grandpa’s plane lost contact with the other two planes, and he’s not sure that they ever made it back to the base. Even after the war, 66% of these flight crews were likely dead.

Putting Things Into Perspective

It’s difficult for most people under 40 years old to realize line between life and death that many men walked during their youth in previous generations. One false move and many of us might not be here today. I hear these stories from my Grandpa and I feel equal parts inspired, scared, blessed and optimistic.

My Grandpa is a great man and I am just so happy to have him in my life. You are a real life hero, and I will do my best to make sure your stories live on for many more generations.  I love you Norby.

I only hope that some day I can be as much of an inspiration to future generations. It certainly won’t be through military means, but we can all aspire to leave our marks in many other ways.

Professional Juggler

The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. “

– Brooks

Back when I was an unhappy fat bastard I never imagined a life resembling the one I live right now.  Over the years I have taken on a wealth of personal and professional responsibility, commitment and development that is downright overwhelming to think about.  In fact, I have so much swimming through my head that I feel compelled to write it all down as therapy.

My personality lends itself to obsessive behavior – I am an autodidact in all senses of the word, and have an extreme sense of commitment that makes me loyal to a fault.  I have a hard time letting go of things when I have worked hard to acquire or nurture them.  Amanda calls me a hoarder for this behavior – I just call it reality.

Over the years, accumulation becomes a juggling act that gets more difficult as more balls are added.  Many balls barely stay in the air, and the act of juggling becomes more and more difficult.

It would be really easy to simply quit some commitments cold turkey or phase certain aspects out of my life, but which ones?  I really enjoy everything that I have added to my life in the past several years.

So rather than complain about being overwhelmed, maybe it’s more healthy to celebrate the balls that I have put in the air.

Relationship – Without getting into too much detail, being in a long distance relationship has a significant impact on priorities and time management

Wedding PlanningI asked Amanda to marry me in March and while our wedding date is still 9 months away, things are bound to start heating up in the near future.  We have already planned to have a small family wedding at Kunde Estate in Sonoma Valley

Three Deep – Among all commitments, this one takes up by far the most time – but is also responsible for almost all of my livelihood.  It is also among the most rewarding things that I do – growing a company from a small start up to a great place to work and a great company.

Freelance Projects – I like to stay fresh as a marketer and web developer, so I will occasionally take on freelance projects that fall into ideal situations (developing sites in WordPress).  I always do a great job, but not always in a timely manner.  This is a ball that usually has the biggest chance of dropping each day.

Gardening – This year I started my first food garden in my yard and it’s been a fun experience.  Next year I would like to take it to another level by installing a retaining wall/garden bed and taking it to the next level.  This will take a lot of up front time (which I enjoy – need an annual house project), and will be therapeutic.

Charcuterie – I already showed you how the sausage is made.  I plan on making much more of it!

MIMA Board – I joined the board of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association this year, and it has been a very valuable experience.  It is my first non-profit board membership, and I have learned a lot from the team.  I am also contributing by managing the website for the annual summit, the main website and the MIMA blog.  I drastically underestimated how much time this would take, but I feel a sense of accomplishment seeing it come together.

Pool N Patio – Not many people know that I also own an online e-commerce business that sells pool equipment online.  It has been a very interesting experience and I wish I could spend more time on making the store better – but for the most part I have neglected things while I work on other ventures.

Bodyguard Careers – This is a website I have worked on with Hucky for the past 7 years.  We do a lot to contribute to the education of people looking to get into the Executive Protection industry and it has been great to see it grow.

Speaking Engagements – Over the past 12 months I have averaged a speaking gig every 1-2 months.  I have presented in front of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, MIMA, Project Skyway, Nonprofit talk and many others… as well as client presentations with Silverpop and Google.  This is probably my biggest guilty pleasure.  For some reason, I love public speaking and evangelizing online marketing to anyone who will listen!

Mentorship – I really enjoy providing career mentorship to people who are interested in a career in marketing.  I had to learn everything on my own due to a lack of available resources, so I try to get people on the right career track whenever I can.  This includes employees at Three Deep as well as people outside of the organization.

Social Life – I still try to meet up with as many friends as possible, but I have found that a lot of my social outings have become career motivated in recent years.  I still keep in touch with most high school and college friends, but seeing work and industry friends have become my most frequent social events.

Travel – I spend around 130-150 nights a year in a hotel room or guest bedroom.  I’m a platinum flyer with Delta and Gold with Hilton hotels.  I love seeing the world and don’t want to trade this in until I have kids and need to settle down.  More than anything, this causes me to juggle the most, so I probably won’t be heartbroken when I find myself a silver elite flyer instead of platinum at some point.

Family – At times I feel like I neglect my family, but for the most part I still see everyone at the same rate I always have: 1-2 times a month.   When we do see each other, I try to make sure it’s quality time.

Photography – I began an attempt to organize all of my photos over the years and have made progress, but it’s still slow going.  I would also like to get better at taking advanced photos with my camera (i.e. not

Wine – Wine is awesome.  I love to collect it and drink it.   Heck, we are getting married at a winery!  My favorite winery right now is Wellington in Sonoma, with Ty Caton being a close #2.

Things I have virtually cut out of my life:

Casual Sports Watching – Sports are all but gone from my day to day life.  Other than my season tickets with the Twins and catching ballparks on work trips, I hardly have sports on my TV.  I have even started to DVR Vikings games and watch them on a delay!

Writing – I love writing and it pains me that I don’t do more of it.  I simply have too much brain drain during most weeks to even think about writing something to share with the world.  Most of my writing is started by a thought I have in the shower or in the car – I will get inspired to draft something, run out of time, and have the post sit untouched for months/years.  It doesn’t really seem worth it to post incomplete thoughts, and I’m not sure what my audience even is for complete articles (outside of my sisters awesome encouragement).

Weeknight Socializing – What does that even mean?

Lazy Weekends – Yeah right.  I am up at 6:30 AM most weekends naturally.  I’m getting old dude.

Idleness – Not sure I could sit idle anyway, but I have filled my time with so many commitments that guilt sets in well before I spend any time idly standing by

Television Surfing – DVR baby

This is the life I have chosen – and I like it.  At some point change will come and I very well may long for this exact moment.   Until then, I will continue to seize today while it’s here and become a better juggler.