"We have four boxes with which to defend our freedom: the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box." - Congressman Larry McDonald M.D.
(1 April, 1935 - 1 Sept., 1983)


God Save The Republic

21 July 2010

The Warrior Spirit

Although history holds many recorded examples of people who have stood toe to toe with death, defied the odds and lived to tell about it, there are two examples I feel worthy of examination here. What makes these two examples more noteworthy than others; the face to face stare-down between certain death, and these two men, involved every minute of every day for months and even years. These two flesh and blood human beings had the angel of death riding on their backs, like a psychotic jockey, and yet, they continued to fight and survived.

Hugh Glass (1780 - 1833) was an American fur trapper and frontiersman noted for his exploits in the American West during the first third of the 19th century. Glass was famed most of all for his legendary cross country trek after being mauled by a grizzly bear.

In August of 1823, Glass was working as a scout for an expedition led by Andrew Henry, up the valley of the Grand River in South Dakota. While out alone scouting game for the expedition's food supplies, Glass surprised a mother grizzly bear with her two cubs. Before Glass could respond with his rifle, the bear attacked, throwing Glass to the ground and raked him numerous times with her claws. Glass fought back and killed the bear after stabbing it repeatedly with his knife. Glass suffered a broken leg and claw wounds, on his back, that exposed his ribs.

Later, the expedition found Glass and attempted to tend to him but, he lost consciousness and Henry became convinced he would not survive the injuries. Henry asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and bury him. The expedition then moved on.

The volunteers expected Glass would die at any moment. But he held on, a day at a time, and the two grew more concerned about hostile Native Americans and the growing distance between them and the expedition. Convincing themselves that Glass would surely die, they covered him with the bear's skin, as a shroud, took his rifle, knife and other equipment then fled to reconnect with the expedition. Despite his injuries, Glass regained consciousness, only to find he had been abandoned without weapons, equipment or food.

In one of the more remarkable treks known to history, Glass set his own broken leg, wrapped himself in the bear skin and began crawling for the nearest settlement, more than 200 miles away. To prevent gangrene, Glass laid his wounded back on rotting logs and let maggots eat the dead flesh. He ate mostly berries and roots and, on one occasion, drove wolves away from a downed bison calf and feasted on the meat. Six weeks of crawling, Glass made it to the Cheyenne River where he constructed a raft and floated down river, eventually reaching safety at Fort Kiowa.

Hugh Glass died in the winter of 1833, while working as a hunter for the garrison at Fort Union. He and two fellow hunters were killed in an attack by Arikara Indians.

Shoichi Yokoi (1915 - 1997) was a Japanese imperial army sergeant who lived in the jungles of Guam for 28 years after World War II ended. Yokoi lived in a tunnel like, underground cave in a bamboo grove until he was discovered in January 1972. Two of his fellow soldiers had died, most likely from malnutrition / starvation eight years prior. Yokoi survived on a diet of coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, snails, eels and rats. After being discovered, he was transported to Guam Memorial Hospital where he was found to be in good health, other than anaemic, as a result of his salt free diet.

Yokoi had been a tailor's apprentice before being drafted in 1941. He wove himself replacement clothing using the fibers of wild hibiscus plants. He used a pair of scissors he had through the war to tailor the clothes and to cut his hair.

Yokoi said, "We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of being captured alive. The only thing that gave me the strength and will to survive was my faith in myself and, that as a soldier of Japan, it was not a disgrace to continue on living." No one in the history of humanity has equaled Yokoi's record. Few have struggled with loneliness, fear and self as long as twenty eight years.

By all accounts, Hugh Glass should have died soon after, if not during, the bear mauling. Instead, he laid where he was left, himself expecting to be taken by death at any moment. And after a time, when he realized that death was not going to come so easily, he made a commitment to himself to refuse to lay there and so easily succumb. Perhaps in his mind, it would be a disgrace to die from hunger since he apparently wasn't going to die from his injuries.

Eight years after his only remaining comrades had died, Shoichi Yokoi was still going strong, even though he had suspected the war had long been over. What force could drive a person to go on waiting 28 years for orders to quit his post, to eat rats and wear clothes made from tree bark, and still find disgrace in the idea of turning himself in? And again, for years after he suspected the war was over.

What is it that can motivate a person to run into a burning building when others are running out? Or what can motivate a person to dive on top of a triggered hand grenade? Or, what motivates a person to march into battle, knowing they might well die?

For many hundreds of years, the Japanese lived by a very strict code of honor they call Bushido. One lived, fought and died with honor; honor to oneself, their country and their emperor. An act of dishonor could only be atoned for through ritualistic suicide. So what could motivate a person to take a short bladed knife (tanto), thrust the blade into the left side of the lower abdomen, pull the blade across to the right side, turn the blade and pull it upward to the diaphragm and then lean backward to spill their intestines onto the floor at their knees? All without showing any outward signs of pain. Once completed, the "dishonored" could then lean forward so that an assistant could end the ritual with a sword, (katana) by beheading the now disemboweled redeemed one. Just the way seppuku (hara-kiri) had been done, in a very precise manner, for all those hundreds of years.

Let's give this motivation a fitting name; let's call it The Warrior Spirit.

To be continued.


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