The buddy system meant a lot to me in Boy Scouts. I never dove into that great pond at Scout Camp without a friend, someone who could give you a hand if you ran into trouble. My best friend Ryan was usually with me right before we jumped off the dock. We’d face the elements together, or the occasional mishap, like a sinking war canoe or a malfunctioning sailboat. A buddy is worth his weight in gold in a dangerous moment.
Recently, an old Navy vet named Dick told me a story from his days in the Pacific. He was on a transport in a convoy on his way to reinforce a distant island. That night, the ships were alerted to the presence of an enemy submarine. Dick’s transport wasn’t equipped with sonar—an essential instrument in World War II—so the passengers were told to don life preservers and prepare for the worst. Dick and his fellow sailors lingered by the railings as destroyers charged around them in wild circles. Sometimes the “tin cans” got close enough to ram the transport and the sailors scurried to the opposite side of the ship.
Dick and a buddy started talking about the possibility of getting torpedoed and jumping into the sea. “I’m going to stick close to you, Dick,” said his friend, “because I can’t swim.”
Dick gave his buddy a good piece of advice: “Don’t stay close to me! When this ship sinks under the waves, the suction will pull you right in with her. I’m gonna swim as fast as I can in the opposite direction.”
I have a feeling Dick would’ve helped his friend any way he could. Luckily, the transport escaped the threat of submarines and safely delivered him to the island. But there have always been shining moments when two guys make a split-second decision to pair up and survive. That wasn’t just a sign of American strength. It was a testament to the character of decent human beings.