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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 • Posted July 14, 2010

A Survivor of Circumstances…

An old story focuses on coffee shop banter of a rabbi, priest and preacher pondering preferred postures for prayer. Prostrate positions, upheld hands and bowed heads are thoroughly discussed.

On an adjacent stool, a repairman hears their animated conversations without even cupping his ear.

"I ain’t one to argue with clergy," he interrupts. "But I’ve done some powerful praying hangin’ by one leg 30 feet up a utility pole."…

* * * * *

This yarn came to mind with the news of Harry Marlin’s death a while back. For him, adult life was a bonus. Before age 21, he had survived both the Great Depression and World War II—the latter including 50 combat missions flown over Germany during his 30 months in the U. S. Army Air Force.

Had he overheard the "prayer" discussion, he’d have offered a sobering personal remembrance: "I’ve done some powerful praying while crammed inside the ball turret of a B-17 bomber."

Marlin, 86, was the kind of man who typified the central figures of newsman Tom Brokaw’s best-seller, The Greatest Generation….

* * * * *

His hardscrabble growing-up years in the Brown County hamlet of Blanket and the war neither defined him nor defeated him. The war did, however, snuff out dreams of studying journalism at the University of Missouri.

He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1943. Barely 18, his feet in stirrups and hands on a pair of .50 caliber machine guns, he took on what crew members considered to be the toughest assignment. Inside the turret that rotated 360 degrees in the plane’s underbelly, there wasn’t even room for a parachute. He couldn’t "hunker"—up or down—but he stayed busy. Ever alert, he watched for enemy aircraft, fired machine guns, maintained radio contact with the crew, turned the turret and wished he had more room….

* * * * *

He mentioned oft-repeated prayers for take-offs and landings to come out even.

There were many close calls, including engine losses in the "workhorse" plane Boeing unveiled just three decades after the Wright brothers’ aviation milestone.

Marlin won enough awards to weigh down his uniform before the war’s end in 1945. Then, a mere half-dozen years later, he and his Army Reserve buddies were activated during the Korean Conflict….

* * * * *

Many lessons learned in the "school of hard knocks" are the best of all. For these, Marlin deserved Ph.D. recognition. Some might guess—albeit incorrectly—that his civilian life was comparatively mundane. He logged time as a police officer and insurance investigator, among other pursuits. His interests ran the gamut, including photography, Big Bend travels, sashays to Luckenbach and gardening.

He loved his family, one that spanned four generations, and his dog, Bitsy.

For a dozen years late in life, he tackled writing, authoring five books, all of them after age 76. His column was a "must read" weekly feature in the Brownwood Bulletin….

* * * * *

Bernell Dewees, his companion of 32 years, assisted with editing—when invited—and encouraged Marlin to maintain his writing regimen into his 84th year.

He used simple, unvarnished words, recounting common experiences. He is remembered for hundreds of classic lines, some of them gleaned for tributes written by Bulletin colleagues Gene Deason, Candace Cooksey Fulton and John Kliebenstein.

Marlin was called, most deservedly, the "Will Rogers of Central Texas" and "a gifted prairie philosopher."…

* * * * *

His writing would have lacked its "soul and substance" had his been a traditional education. Surviving life’s most jagged edges trumps "book-learnin’" every time.

He took life as it came, even "humorizing" one of his final visits to the doctor’s office. "I’m having no trouble ‘hunkering down’," he drawled. "’Hunkering up’ is a whole ‘nuther story."

Among the cast of characters in Marlin’s life is Richard Hetzel, an unorthodox minister whose life has taken many tangents. He could, for example, fill in as an auctioneer or circus barker with short notice….

* * * * *

Marlin, once noting Hetzel’s "propensity for embellishment" at a funeral service, made an "on-the-spot" request. "I want you to ‘embellish me’ at my funeral."

Hetzel came through, "in spades" as Harry might have said. There was a mixture of smiles and tears. In Marlin’s printed funeral program were lines lifted from a 1990 column response to Jesus’ promise of many mansions in His Father’s house. "But I don’t want a mansion—just make a place for me where I can see the beauty of wildflowers, the green of the grass, the blue of the sky and the majesty of the mountains, and all of the glory of Heaven will be mine," Marlin penned.

On the roadside en route to Rock Church Cemetery near Blanket, wildflowers nodded in the breeze. Friends took note of the colorful countryside and wished for their cameras. There would have been nothing wrong in stopping for pictures; Harry would have….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com

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