Everybody always said I was lucky because I always knew what I wanted to do in life---be a newspaper person.
Yet, there are so many strokes of fortune that direct our lives that we never can be sure of what will happen next.
How many of us who have been in an auto accident wondered why we didn't arrive at that spot 10 minutes sooner or later?
Or how many times do we turn a corner or not turn it and have our lives completely changed?
I remember a double date I had over 30 years ago. On the way back home after leaving the young women, I asked my friend if he cared if I dated the one he had been with. He didn't object and so my next date was with the woman who has been my wife these many years.
I was thinking of the twists of fate when I watched the "AfterMASH" program last week. A soldier discovered he had leukemia and blamed it on the radiation he had absorbed during atomic bomb testing. The soldier also was worried about the health of the baby his wife was expecting.
It immediately took me back to a small, windowless, armor-clad room deep in the bowels of the USS SALT LAKE CITY, a heavy cruiser that had been in almost every Pacific battle in World War II and had fired its guns more than any other ship in the fleet.
I was a relative newcomer on the ship. I had been aboard only two years and saw only five major battles. Most of my fellow sailors had more time in, so they had more points accumulated for discharge.
As a newly minted second class petty officer, I soon became the ranking petty officer in my division.
The commander of the division made one of his rare appearances in my small cubicle. He sat down with me, knees to knees, and told me he was going to offer me a great opportunity. Although I soon would be eligible for discharge, I could, by staying in the Navy a bit longer, take part in history.
At the same time I could be doing a lot for my country, he told me. The commander said that the ship, which the Japanese couldn't sink, was going to the Bikini Islands to be a target for the atomic bomb to see how it and others would take the big bomb. He added that the ship's crew had been decimated by all the discharges. He and the country really needed me to get the ship to Bikini.
I told him I already had been to Bikini and a lot of other islands and it had been a long two years without any female companionship, which was trying for a youth of 18 or 19. Besides, making up for this deprivation, there was the matter of getting on with my schooling after a three-year hiatus.
We argued for hours. He offered me an immediate first class rating with a promise of chief soon after. He offered more leave time.
A couple of times I almost gave in, but I didn't.
Somehow, without me, the USS Salt Lake City made it to Bikini. The atom bomb damaged the grand old ship but didn't sink it. It took four torpedoes to do that.
It wasn't until years later did I begin to understand how lucky I was. The sailors who watched the explosion were given no safety instruction except not to look directly at the blast.
Many stood around in shorts and were peppered by debris.
Soon stories started appearing about Bikini observers having more cancer, dying earlier and having disfigured children.
Even today, the l,100 Bikini Islanders aren't allowed back on the islands because the land can't be decontaminated.
There have been 2,883 radiation-related claims filed by veterans or their widows from atomic tests. There now is a National Association of Atomic Veterans with 8,000 members.
After watching that "veteran" dying on "AfterMASH," I was so happy I didn't give in and make the real trip to Bikini.
And my wife, my children and their children can be grateful too.