THE IDLE AMERICAN: A look back at losses

Published 10:40 am Monday, July 23, 2018

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury


It will be the focus of books yet to be written, and of songs yet to be sung. Rarely does drama equal that of the rescue of a dozen Thai youngsters and their coach. They were assumed lost until flashlights revealed life and fearless rescue team members shared the good news. Voices around the world “seconded the emotion.”

Humanity immediately seemed closely woven; pettiness that too often divides was ignored. Instead, we waited for news that there might be hope.

Survival odds seemed tiny, but bravery, commitment and cooperation led to a “rope of hope.” The world pulled together, and millions prayed.

For 18 days, we focused in ways sharper than we thought possible. We prayed for victims in an underground jail, where dangers lurked, oxygen was “iffy” and food in short supply.

Estimates of distance to them varied greatly, ranging from 2-6 miles, the longer including twists and turns, ups and downs. The latter, someone guessed, was “as the bat flies.”

Technology, bravery and prayers spoken in many tongues combined for a miraculous outcome, perhaps in reverse order.

The coach leading the youngsters into the cave never called such a “boneheaded play.”

Yet, he was contrite, courageous and shared his food. The last to be rescued, he sought forgiveness for his blunder.

I want to hear more details, particularly about the heroic Thai Navy SEAL who perished during rescue attempts.

Two previous times, we waited with others to learn the fate of two youngsters in earthen entrapments. The first, in April of 1949, concerned two-year-old Kathy Fiscus, who fell into an abandoned water well.

Ironically, it had been drilled 46 years earlier by the firm that employed her father.

Gargantuan rescue attempts were made to reach her, lodged 100 feet underground. Some 10,000 people gathered at the site when she was extracted and her death confirmed, three days after the fall. Historians say this tragedy introduced massive TV coverage in the US.

A similar accident in 1987 occurred in Midland, TX, where 18-month-old Jessica McClure (Morales) fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard. This one had a happy outcome.

Dozens of rescuers frantically worked to remove her from 22 feet below the surface.

Millions following the saga through mass media were heartened when they heard the toddler singing a favorite song about Winnie-the-Pooh. She was removed to safety 56 hours after the ordeal began.

Five months after the Fiscus tragedy, there was similarity in the death of a 34-year-old Methodist minister. The outcome was not prolonged, and there was limited news coverage.

Rev. Vernon White, my revered uncle, fell into an abandoned well during a hunting trip. He and several other men had scattered across a field to hunt dove. He was alone when others heard gun shots, then yells. They assumed a farmer was calling his cows.

At hunt’s end, they realized White was missing. He was believed to have shot some birds and was running to retrieve them when he fell into an unmarked, ground-level cistern.

Committed to ministry at an early age, he worked hard to make a living while attending Howard Payne and Southwestern. He received his degree from the Georgetown institution in 1942.

Pastor of Waco Lakeview Methodist Church for three years, he was serving there when he died on September 9, 1949. The congregation gave the parsonage to his widow, who was left to support seven-year-old daughter Dora Fay and son Terry, who was born a few months after the tragedy. (Terry now lives in Arizona; Dora Fay is Mrs. Bill McKenna, in Fort Worth. White’s widow, Mildred, later married Dr. Clarence A. Sutton, longtime pastor of Arlington Heights United Methodist Church. Their son, Jamie, lives in Wisconsin.)

At age 10, I first felt death’s sting when my uncle died. I join others in claiming the century-old hymn, “Farther Along.” The lyrics include: “Cheer up, my brother. Live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it, all by and by.”


Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.