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Coming from the world of bobsled, the paratroopers fascinate and amaze me. Grandpa was the kindest grandfather a young boy could ever ask for, and he always supported my life's endeavors, including my pursuit of the Olympics, my college education, my Christian mission to Honduras and Belize, etc. But when I started to dig into his experiences as a paratrooper in World War II, my hero grew even taller in my eyes.
How I miss him. He was a man amongst men all his life, but in the war he served as a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in Company D of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). I asked him once which he thought was crazier, bobsled or parachuting out of a plane into combat. He just smiled that bright smile of his and said, "Bobsled!"
I'm not sure I agree with him on that, but Grandpa and the other troopers told me about an even crazier group of paratroopers known as Pathfinders whose main job was to go in before the main body dropped and mark the Drop Zone (DZ) for the transports' crews. This lead to increased accuracy in jumps as well as greater odds of mission success.
Now, I have been a student of military history since my early teens, so I knew all about Pathfinders and their roles in airborne operations such as Paestum in September 1943, Overlord on D-Day June 6, 1944, Dragoon in August 1944 or Market Garden in September 1944. Pathfinders parachute, ride or hike into the DZs which are frequently and often dangerously behind enemy lines, to guide the incoming main drops using radio beacons (Eureka), luminescent Holophane lights, ground-marking panels, colored smoke grenades/pots, etc. Grandpa and his fellow buddies were accustomed to perilous circumstances as paratroopers, but pathfinders were often the only invaders surrounded by enemy units for hours until the main drops occurred. Their official motto for decades has been, SEMPER PRIMUS, or "ALWAYS FIRST."
We need to remember that in World War II, parachute troops were new and as the "elite of the elite", some Allied soldiers considered them crazy for jumping out of airplanes "on purpose" which I smile about since people often call us bobsled athletes crazy for racing down icy tracks at high speeds "on purpose."
The pathfinders of the 11th Airborne Division were unique "on purpose" triple-volunteers. They first enlisted/volunteered for military service, then volunteered for the parachute troops and then volunteered to join the division's Recon Platoon, or "Ghost Platoon". Given their frequent patrols and pathfinding missions behind enemy lines, the other Angels in the 11th Airborne nicknamed them "Snoopers."
I have often thought about the "guiding" nature of those pathfinders. In their simplest form, the Angels' pathfinders were there to "show the way to an objective." Their bravery, esprit-de-corps and professional skill were the hallmark of the 11th Airborne Division's recon men, and when I look out into the world today, I applaud the "pathfinders" whose courage, passion and example are leading the way for those around them.
I don't mean in a military sense; no, I am referring to the dreamers, the inventors, and the entrepreneurs, pioneers, goal-chasers, visionaries, lovers, fighters, travelers, explorers, adventurers, artists, musicians, etc. I grew up surrounded by Olympians and race care drivers and innovators who pushed forward towards incredible goals and I learned that the truth is, we need more of them. We need more Walter Mittys, Teslas, Edisons, Wright brothers, Michelangos, Blys, and Hillarys.
God bless those who find the strength to build a foundation of dreams, goals, visions and work. From a community changing non-profit to a world-spanning company, a first novel to a new album, our world is made greater and more beautiful each and every day by those who contribute to it. Think of your favorite musician(s) or painter or entrepreneur or blogger, author, actor/actress, inventor, etc. It isn't just what they produce that we appreciate; its that they're producing and adding to our world.
They're pathfinders, showing the way through their example, creativity and grit and by their light, we are given opportunities every day to do the same. That's why so many people have told me that they love watching the Olympics: because as athletes we give others, via our example, hope for their own lives.
It is a principle that was so superbly expressed by author Marianne Williamson when she wrote is her highly-recommended book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles":
"We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
God bless the pathfinders in this world, those who "let (their) own light shine,... (to) unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." What would the world be like if all of us had the courage and strength to follow our dreams, to set high goals, to use our time and talents to create and give something good to our families, our communities, our nations, even the whole earth?
That's why I like the invitation extended by Austin Kleon in his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, "Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.”
Or as Walt Whitman so eloquently stated in his poem, "O Me! O Life!":
The powerful play of life and this world goes on, will YOU contribute a verse? I love Whitman's implication that everyone MAY contribute a verse, but only IF they choose to do so.
So God bless those who choose to do so, who choose to be pathfinders in the world. God bless those who are up at 4am to hit the gym or up late working on their podcast. God bless the student pouring over their notes and the aspiring writer working on the 50th draft. God bless the non-profit dreamer working out of their garage to make a difference and the teenagers rocking out in their parents' basement in the hopes of making it big someday.
But what about you, what is holding YOU back from being a pathfinder in your own life? Fear? Regret? Shame? Lack of confidence? MAY I encourage you to do some soul-searching to see 1. what dreams you've been holding on the backburner and then 2. ask yourself what is stopping you from doing all the great things that we both know you're capable of.
Make a list and then do the work. There is no time like the present to start building the future you truly want!
As the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "Renegades" by X Ambassadors, declares:
Long live the pioneers
Rebels and mutineers
Go forth and have no fear
Come close and lend an ear
As I picture my grandfather as a young 20 year old paratrooper standing in the door of his C-47 in World War II, waiting to jump out into the unknown of combat, I imagine the concern on his face as he looks over his men, the "stick" which would follow him out the door. As a 1st Lieutenant and as a Platoon Leader, he would jump out first. He would lead the way, would have to conquer his fears first in line, would have to show the other troopers the way.
He wasn't assigned as a pathfinder in the military, but he was a "pathfinder" for his men and for me in my life.
Will you accept the challenge to lead the way for those who are to come, for those who will follow your example?