Old Sarge: Jesus and Other Heroes

October 16, 2013

Wisdom and Christian reflections from Forrest L. Gomez, a Vietnam veteran and dear friend, affectionately known as Old Sarge:


2potomac crash

Today I want to talk about a hero, and Jesus. Heroes walk among us, many from the wars, and many from other horrendous events, like big fires, and things that produce mass casualties. We honor our war dead every year, for they have made it possible for us to walk upright in the sun, as free men and women.

But I want to talk about a fallen hero whose name will not appear on any monuments or casualty lists from war zones, places like the World Trade Center Memorial, and so forth. He did not win his medal on the field of battle, but in a freezing cold river, after a plane crash. Arland D. Williams‘ sole contact with any military structure was his four years of education at the prestigious military school in South Carolina, the Citadel. The code he learned was “Duty – Honor – Country,” and the only answers cadets were allowed to give to any question outside the classroom were, “Yes Sir!”, “No Sir!” and “No excuse Sir!” (Sometimes I wish candidates for Congress had to go through the Citadel before running for office.)

The Citadel is noted for having fired the actual first shot of the Civil War, before Fort Sumter, by attempting to engage a federal gunboat on a nearby river withe the school’s small cannon. It is to the federal’s credit that they did not return fire, their guns being thrice the caliber of the Citadel’s small cannon.

After four years of prime education, Arland did not pursue a military career, but instead entered the private sector. On January 12, 1982, a passenger plane crashed on a Potomac bridge and plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac River, and began to slowly sink. Arland Williams was a passenger on that plane, and was still alive and strapped in his seat, and seriously injured. He and other passengers could be seen by rescuers through a hole torn in the side of the plane. While people on the banks did the best they could with passengers who had broken free of the wreckage, a park police helicopter appeared over the wreckage and dropped a rescue rope. Arland could have tied the rope around himself as it dangled near him, but time and again, he passed the rope to another passenger who was still alive. Five passengers were rescued by the helicopter and crew, but when the plane returned for a sixth rescue attempt, the jet liner had sunk beneath the freezing waters of the Potomac, and Arland Williams was gone.

It took much work by FAA personnel, comparing survivor and rescuer witness statements, along with checking newsreels, but the hero was ultimately identified. On 1 June 1983, President Ronald Reagan awarded the highest civilian award for valor to Arlin’s wife and children, and his portrait now hangs in an honored place in the Citadel.

Brothers and sisters, new Christians are like new soldiers coming into a line unit during wartime. It is the duty of the veterans to teach the new guys the tricks of the trade, so they can fight and have a chance of surviving. They are passing the rope, so that others may live. Arlin Williams showed us the way. As Christians, it is our duty to pass the rope to new Christians and the unsaved, so that they may live forever. Teach them the wisdom of God, and verse them in His Word. We must always be ready to pass the rope, and make sure it is anchored in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless and keep you, my beloved friends.

– The Sarge

posted by  10/16/13


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  1. Rick DeSilva

    This story is tickling my memory. When I read stories like this I wonder which person I would behave like? Would I have the presence of mind to think of others or would I think of myself?
    There’s the story of the three young men that helped rescue the saints and carried exhausted saints across a freezing river. Returning to the far side time and again. Which would I be? If and when the time comes I hope I’m like Arlin.

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