Being With Brave Men

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s post about women. Today, the men.

I like men. I really like men. I suppose that comes as no big surprise since I’m one of them. I like the camaraderie among men, that we know each other. I like the firm handshakes, the pats on the backs, the fact that you can touch them, give ‘em a good natured nudge. I like that you can talk about business and finance and politics and sports and you know the other guy knows what you’re talking about…and actually cares.

I like the drive in men, the grit and determination. I like the instinctive bellow from the center of their chests when something great happens for their team. I like their unrelenting desire to succeed and their self-satisfied confidence and bearing when they do. I like the generosity of successful men, those that do big things for people in need for no other reason than they can and they want to help.

I like that men can be tender and kind and moved to tears.

I like the look of a fit man, solid, leaning into the wind. I like their strength and that with a golf club in their hands, they can bash a golf ball forever. I like that while they can play the game with a fiery competitiveness, they can also adapt to playing collaboratively on a team.

I like that professional golfers know the heights and depths of competitive golf and not only commiserate with each other, they help each other. During my run as a Monday qualifier, I had a dozen men offer me serious snippets of help with my game. It was always offered with respect, a felt need to contribute to a fellow traveler. And always deferentially, with implicit or explicit permission.

I like that, backed into a corner, men will tenaciously press on to try to win the day. And I like their bravery, facing their fears, sucking it up, standing their ground and fighting. Fighting for the win, fighting to save their careers this week at Disney and, yes, fighting in war.

In a Sunday practice round in Las Vegas, I played with two legitimate, honest-to-God heroes.

One of them was my friend from Denver, Pete Sylvester, who told me something about himself that he had never told me before: he had served in Vietnam on a six-man reconnaissance team. These guys would go out into the jungle for ten days at a time looking for trouble.

Just the thought of it sent chills through my entire body. Can you imagine? Wandering in dense jungle, huddling for catnaps in the dark of night, listening for the crack of a twig, a bullet.

The subject had come up naturally and without fanfare because Randy Clark caught up to us on the first green. He had been retired for three years from a 22-year career as a Navy fighter pilot. But he got his start in the Army as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam ferrying recon teams into and out of the jungle.

When he found out that Pete was a member of a recon team, Randy marveled at how he would swoop in low and fast over the jungle tree tops, quickly bring the helicopter to a hover, drop a rope down into the jungle and evacuate the team. His marvel was over how they ever found the rope. He was amazed. And very brave. On the one hand, the jungle canopy reduced your visibility to the enemy on the ground, but at the same time it reduced your ability to see and avoid them. It was like going for a swim with seals in shark-infested waters, waiting for the ferocious strike from below. But that didn’t matter, your job was to get the recon team out. Men are willing to die for each other.

And then, with that connection established, there on the first green, the two of them quietly shared their most harrowing moments. It just came up. Bystanders never would have guessed what they were talking about.

Pete had to kill a man who suddenly came out of the bush a mere fifteen yards away. But Pete only had a .38 caliber handgun which didn’t have the stopping power of a .45—the man didn’t stop until he lay two steps from Pete’s feet. It took all six rounds.

That hair-raising story instantly flashed Randy’s in his mind; the time his hand gun had saved his life. He had been shot down. He was lying face down in a rice paddy, unconscious. Fortunately, when he started to come to and heard Vietnamese voices, he realized that his right hand was underneath his breast bone and right next to the powerful hand gun a South Vietnam fellow officer had given him. As the search party was getting ready to take him prisoner, he was able to roll over and kill two of them. The rest of them ran away.

This was not bragging. There was no gloating. It wasn’t about killing people or machismo or who had the most testosterone. It was simply two guys telling each other something frightening and potentially fatal that had happened in their lives to a guy they each knew would understand.

In a way, I felt like I had been eavesdropping and I felt privileged to have been there.

Thank God for good men. Thank God for brave men. 

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