I would have written this last fall, but Run DMZ was then on hiatus. The recent DVD release of the movie The Guardian gives me another opportunity to write this non-running post.
My husband never liked to talk about his work. In fact he was so mum, and I so compliant, that I didn’t know until we moved to Kodiak that he’d signed on to be part of a helicopter search-and-rescue crew that plucked people from churning seas in the Gulf of Alaska.
I learned from listening to the other wives that it was dangerous work. And I later learned from covering dramatic rescues as a reporter that I should have been at the air station when the crew returned or when the Commandant awarded them for going above and beyond the call of duty. (I found out about that one when I saw my husband’s picture was on the front page of the local paper!)
One night in Kodiak he didn’t come home. And he didn’t call, which meant he was still out on a rescue mission. Around 1 in the morning I anxiously found myself gently dancing with my younger daughter, then an infant, in the living room with the lights out and the stereo music very, very low. While trying to coax her back to sleep, he came through the front door. He didn’t see us, and he didn’t turn on any lights after he dropped his flight bag. So he didn’t see me staring at him as he just stood there. When his eyes and ears finally adjusted, he came toward us and gave us a huge hug. He didn’t let go and I admit in my sleepy state I was pissed he’s woken the baby back up. Which may have been why he felt compelled to break his code of silence.
“I thought I was going to die tonight.”
He explained that a crew had gone out to rescue victims of a small-plane crash and the helo equipment had gone haywire in the dense fog. They were in the middle of a mountain range and had no idea of their position. Would they clear one mountain, only to smack into the next? The pilots blindly guided the plane up and over passes on a wing and a prayer.
I thought of that night and all the other events that made up my husband’s amazing career last September when I, along with that now grown girl and her dad, sat in a crowded movie theater for an advanced screening of the movie “The Guardian.” The theater manager came out to introduce the movie and to recognize “the heroes of the evening.” That the enthusiastic applause came mainly from active duty Marines made it extra special. During the movie, we recognized places and real-life Coasties Gilbert once knew.
Afterward, my daughter wanted to know all about her dad’s job before his retirement. And, to my surprise, he told her about some of his higher profile rescues, or wreckage recoveries in the case of the ill-fated Egypt Air and JFK Jr. crashes. I’d hoped he’d hype being shot at by Bahaman drug smugglers while working with the DEA – you know, like in “Miami Vice.” But he did it without the least bit of bravado, claiming they were goofballs with guns.
“You don’t see too many movies about the Coast Guard,” the theater manager had commented before starting the film. I guess if they are all like my husband, it’s easy to understand why.