My grandparents, Ashton and Phillis Harvey, were caretakers of the "Detroit Hunt and Fish Club" in South Branch, MI. for over 30 yrs. This is a private club for some very wealthy and high profile members, who come from Detroit and the upper class suburbs.
It's also the place where I spent most of my summers as a kid. One of the members was an elderly man.. Cardinal John Francis Dearden from Detroit. He would come up to the club in the off season, when the children were in school....virtually guaranteeing peace and quiet during his stay. LOL
I was about 11 years old when I was visiting my grandparents and Cardinal Dearden was there on a mini vacation to do some fishing on the private lake that was located about 1000 feet in front of the lodge. My grandmother introduced me to him while he quietly ate his lunch before going down to the lake to fish. He was a gentle old man and very pleasent to talk to.
John walked over to me and said, "Jim, do you fish?" I of course replied, "Yes Sir!" He said, "Would you like to go fishing with me?" Grandma warned me "NOT" to bother the Cardinal, but he was really nice, I said ...."OK".
So there I am sitting in a row boat fishing with Cardinal John Dearden not having a clue to who or what he was. I wasn't a Catholic so I didn't fully understand who he was. To me he was just a sweet old man I went fishing with when I was a kid.
About 6 years later...
At 17 I joined the Marine Corps and eventually went to Viet Nam (what was I thinking?)
I saw plenty of combat during my tour, as my job was to run Medivac missions. We had to go where the choppers could not or they would be shot down. I was a 19 yr. old Cpl. who just learned the meaning of the word, BULLSHIT.
As the crew chief on an amphibian tractor (Amtrac) we were always going in under fire to take out the wounded. We would bring them to the rear for transfer to a chopper for a ride back to a hospital. That was a scary time in my life for sure.
I joined the Marines believing in a just war only to realize...
I'd been had. We spent most of our time getting high on pot, to numb the fear we all felt inside, no matter how tough we thought we were. I never met anyone who was bullet proof. One afternoon, while there in the bush... living day to day, we finally got a long awaited "Mail Call". A letter from home was worth more than gold.
My grandmother sent me a St. Christopher's medal, scotch taped to a letter she wrote me. It said, "Sweetheart, I've enclosed a St. Christopher's medal that Cardinal Dearden has blessed". He said "Give this to my fishing buddy, Jim, and may God bring him home safe and sound".
Well, after my tour of duty ended, I came home..and not a scratch on me. I don't know if it was luck or the Cardinal's medal he blessed. Before I left Viet Nam, I told this same story to a buddy of mine who still had time to do in country. I took the medal off... and draped it around his neck. I said, "It worked for me, maybe it will work for you too. Promise me one thing, if you make it out of here alive.. please, pass it along to the next guy and so forth... keep the luck going until this damn war is over."
I never saw my Viet Nam buddy or Cardinal John Francis Dearden again... nor do I know what became of the St. Christopher's medal. But I will never forget that gentle old man ....and his fishing pole.....and I'm still here.