The week’s column is written by Adele's brother and Jinny's son David.
Let’s face facts: some folks see things others don’t. On a practical level we can take the example of the hapless urbanite stomping around in unfamiliar woodlands and never finding the lake while the experienced outdoorsman, regardless of unfamiliarity, seems to know exactly where it is. It’s a matter of vision, the kind derived from both eyes and senses and honed by experience.
Then again, there’s a type vision that just seems to come to us. Unless we’re truly psychic, we never really know how or why or when. Ultimately, you can only shrug and chalk it up under the heading: stuff happens. This is just such a case.
In the summer of ’76 I was a young soldier stationed in Mannheim, Germany. The heat in Europe was record breaking that year. So on one sweltering Sunday afternoon, my buddy Jimmy and I grabbed our gear and headed out to a small lake located in the municipal park nearby.
On this day we decided to challenge ourselves by swimming the breadth of the lake, a distance of perhaps 150 yards. We left our towels behind, walked around to the opposite shore and jumped in. This proved a little more difficult than we had imagined. By the time we dragged ourselves out of the water we were completely spent. Just then along came two other friends from our troop, Ortiz and a young man named Donald Sass from Wisconsin. They asked us what was up and despite our marginal performance, we bragged ourselves up pretty good. Well, boys being boys, they clearly saw the implied challenge, left their gear with us and set off around the lake to duplicate our feat.
They started out strong and fine, Ortiz taking the lead. But about 20 yards off the start, the scene changed. Sass began to founder. At first we thought he was having us on, pretending to be in distress to get a cheap laugh. He went under and we did have a chuckle at the “show”. He came back up and suddenly, even at that distance, we knew there was a problem. We jumped to our feet preparing to react but we could see the German lifeguards were already at a full run, as they were closer to the distressed swimmer. We watched with held breath, helpless as Sass went under again. He never came up. Five hours later, the German fire department, using a small boat and grapples, pulled his blue, lifeless body from the bottom of the lake. I’ll never forget the incredulous expression of his wide open eyes.
Two days later there was a short memorial service in the post chapel and Sass’s body was sent home. In recognition of our loss the troop was given the afternoon off. As it was yet another perfect summer’s day, the barracks quickly emptied.
Jimmy and I remained behind. We had seen Sass die and were too somber for any form of recreation. We hung out in my room, reflected and remembered. We noted the fact Sass had brought a book with him the day he drowned with a prophetic title: “A Good Day to Die.”
It needs mentioning that our barracks were stout buildings, cinder block and concrete with heavy windows and solid doors. We were very security conscious, always insuring our room doors were secured. That day was no exception. After a while we became silent, each lost in his own thoughts. The barracks was unnaturally still. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop when, without any warning, the door we thought closed suddenly popped open. We were startled and simultaneously dashed into the hallway. We saw nothing. There was only silence and emptiness to greet us. Naturally, we were a little disconcerted. It made no sense. We decided the door hadn’t been properly closed after all and the latch bolt spring had snapped the door open. Despite the weakness of this explanation it seemed the only possibility and we eventually drifted back into our own wordless musings.
Suddenly I began to have a peculiar feeling. My somber mood was replaced by feelings of distress, shrill and anxious. Then, from the corner of my eyes, in a fully lit room, I began to sense an escalating luminosity around the doorway. The hair on my neck began to rise. For some reason I felt unable to look directly at the door. I began to feel real yet unreasonable fear.
Then, in a flash, a wave of comprehension washed over me and all fear and anxiety collapsed. I immediately and intuitively “knew” the following: that the spirit of Donald Sass was present, that the distress I had experienced was his and not mine, that he did not realize he had passed and was desperate for someone to respond to him and couldn’t understand why nobody was. Also intuitively, I knew what he needed to be said. In my mind I told him he was dead and he could now go home.
At once, the energy of stark desperation melted away. With my head still down I observed the supernatural luminosity move across the room and through the adjacent wall. It was over. I looked up at Jimmy who’s own intuition, though it had not experienced what I had, clearly told him something extraordinary had just taken place. Ironically, he looked as if he was the one who had “seen a ghost”.
Two days later I was unexpectedly accosted by another non-com, a guy I knew, but rarely spoke to and with whom I had no friendship whatsoever. Yet, strangely enough, he sought ME out and began by saying something very odd had happened to him and he just had to tell someone. He had been on duty the day of the “incident”, conducting hourly inspections of the troop area. About the same time as my Sass experience he was making his first tour inspection. After coming on duty that particular afternoon he told me he had just turned and gone up the steps when, out of the corner of his eye, he swore he saw Sass walking up the sidewalk in his civilian cloths. For a brief moment he thought nothing of it until, in his words, “Suddenly I froze because I realized, hey, Sass is dead! But when I whipped my head around, there was nothing there!”
So there you have it. Believe it or not. And even if you don’t believe it, if you’re committed to only believing what you can see, kind of gets you thinking, doesn’t it?