When you look back on life, some of the most impactful moments are those involving birth and death. Well, we’ve had some of both in the last two weeks.
My grandfather, John Coles Sr., passed away two weeks ago. He was 98 years old and had lived an amazing life. My father spoke at the the funeral and gave a beautiful tribute. He ended by saying he lived his life completely. That is the best way to describe it. He was born in a sod-covered log cabin in rural Idaho. He was the fifth of six children born in the two room home, and knew hard work from his youngest days. His family had a farm and animals, and the work was never done.
Times were a changin’
The Great Depression hit when he was in his early teens. The rural area didn’t feel the effect of the failed economy at first, because no one had money before the Depression and no one had money after. They did have some family money in the bank, and eventually all of that was lost. He said they lived on simple meals – he fondly recalled bread and milk for dinner. His mother was a seamstress, so they always had the best clothes in town. They were lucky.
He left for the summer when he was 12 to go work in the hayfields in Montana. He lived in a bunkhouse with the other men, making 2 dollars a day. He was proud to be able to help support the family and he worked hard that summer. He also worked on the railroad during school breaks. One Christmas break he harvested ice that would be stored until summer. They used the ice to cool passenger cars carrying rich tourists to Yellowstone in the summer months.
When he was 19, he enlisted in the National Guard. They never asked about his age, and he never told them, because 21 was the minimum age for the National Guard. That early enlistment increased his military pay in later years.
He started college at BYU Idaho, and had a professor that was moving to Texas Tech. This professor told him if he could make it to Texas, he would make sure he got a scholarship. John didn’t have money to get to Texas, so he rode the rail lines like a hobo. He nearly froze going over the high mountain passes, but made it to Texas and found his professor. While there he lived over a gas station and did anything he could for work. He survived on day-old sweet rolls and a pot of beans a week.
He knew about the war raging in Europe, and knew enlisting would give him help with the cost of school. A buddy told him about an Air Corps recruiting station near by, and John knew that was his destiny. He always wanted to be a pilot. He went to the recruiter and was told he was too skinny to join. However, never one to be told no, he asked what he needed to do to get in the Air Corps. The recruiter told him to go to a local restaurant and eat and drink all he could possibly stuff in. If he could gain five pounds, he would let him enlist. He did what he was told, and gained a quick 5 pounds. He enlisted in Pilot training.
Changes in the Plan
During training, he would march up to eight hours a day. This marching took its toll on his feet and he got a terrible infection. He was hospitalized for a week, and when he was fit to go back to training, he was told he had missed too much and would have to drop out and wait for the next class, or switch to navigator training. He decided to become a navigator, but it was the greatest disappointment in his life to give up his dream of becoming a pilot. In later life he realized this change most likely saved his life.
He completed navigator training and entered WWII shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was deployed all over the world and saw much action. One of his favorite stories to tell is about when his life was spared. His aircraft was taxiing to take off, and the tower told them they had not submitted a flight plan. The pilot decided he would taxi near the tower and John would run the plan in. When he started running toward the tower, the propeller and sun were disorienting. All of a sudden, he was stopped and could not run. He looked up and was 2 feet away from the spinning propeller. He would have died if not for what he is sure was divine intervention.
Watching history happen
He was honored to be part of the six aircraft that accompanied General MaCarthur to Tokyo to occupy Japan after the surrender. He recalls the runway being lined with high ranking Japanese officers, lying with their hands behind their necks. They were expecting to be brutalized, but the American troops occupied the island peacefully. John flew back and shortly flew home to his wife and young daughter.
After the war John finished his undergraduate degree, but wanted to attend medical school. He applied and was not accepted. A friend told him about a man that was helping GIs get accepted to medical school. He took a trip to Stanford to meet with this gentleman, and was soon accepted the John’s Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore Maryland. He reenlisted in the Air Force after medical school and worked many years on military bases before establishing a private practice in southern California. His patients often said he saved their life. He was always there for them and was an excellent doctor.
Running for Life
He worked for many years in California as a cardiologist, and would often recommend exercise to his patients . He thought he would try it as well, and started running at 60 years old. He soon moved to marathons and would run a different marathon every weekend. He completed over 100 before he finished his last at the age of 80. Many of his children and grandchildren have followed in those running footsteps.
He had 8 children, 45 grandchildren (I’m #8) and 117 great grandchildren…and counting. He was a leader in the LDS church, giving hundreds of special blessings as a Patriarch. He was the first to mow a lawn, help a neighbor, work a little longer if someone needed his help.
Some of my favorite memories are of him making my grandma ride all over the world on the back of a tandem bike with him, the sauerkraut he would eat on everything (that must be where I get it from!), and him taking us deep sea fishing off the coast of California. He was quite a man and all of his grandchildren are working hard to keep up! We had a wonderful celebration of his life and were able to take a picture with all 45 of the grandchildren, in birth order. (See photo)
From Death to Birth
Those farming roots must have filtered through a few generations down to me. That is the birth part of my week. Our goat Libby finally had her babies. She waited until Spring break was over and I was back to work – of course! One morning my husband was checking on her and noticed she was licking something – a baby girl! He stayed with her because she was still laboring – but no baby. Wisely he contacted a good friend that agreed to come and help. The second baby was a stillborn baby boy. Once he was out, a second baby girl came, and a third. She had four babies!
So we had triplet baby girls to feed and they were struggling to nurse from momma. That is when the long nights started. We had to bottle feed these babies every 3-4 hours all night long. What?!?! We are too old for night feedings! Finally my husband decided it was survival of the fittest – we were the fittest and needed to survive so they had to learn to nurse from momma. They figured it out and we now have a happy goat family in the backyard.
Whew! What a week! Is there a reason I shared all of this with you? There actually is! Anytime a well-lived life ends for now, or a new life begins, it leads us to think about where we are and what we are doing. Are we making time for those things that people will remember when we pass on?
I’m not going to wax long on this other than to quote Crystal Woods, “Time flies, whether you’re wasting it or not.” My grandpa’s 98 years went by in the blink of an eye, and he used every one. Are you using yours? Go and use up your week on the most important things!
Dr. Michelle Jorgensen, your dentist in American Fork, Utah.
This information is not meant as medical advice. It is provided solely for education. Our dental office in American Fork, UT would be pleased to discuss your unique circumstances and needs as they relate to these topics.
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