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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Power of Prayer, Part 1

The Power of Prayer                              Return to

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As you will see, I am a strong believer in the power of prayer.  Prayer is the single most important connection we have with God and fellow Christians.  Just like parents, God is sad when He does not hear from us.  

Growing up in a fairly strict Lutheran Church in the 1950's and 60's I heard many prayers.  Maybe, I even said a few.  I can remember private prayer time in the mornings at a church camp where we were suppose to pray.  I may have prayed some then, but that was 50+ years ago as of this writing.  Mother would pray with me on most nights when I was small, say less than 10 years old.  When I hit my teen years she must have thought all her prayers for me would be enough.  And, as it has turned out, maybe it was; but I should have been praying too.   The bottom line, at 24 years old, private praying had not been a part of my daily or even monthly routine for over 14 years.  I was hearing prayers at church all those years, but a personal prayer life just never kicked in.  

But, in time, training and a mother's good example, however small or long ago, prayer training paid off. 

Background Information

Please bear with me as I describe what many soldiers went through during the late Vietnam era.

In 1969 I won the lottery, the draft lottery or another way to see it, the lottery to see which lucky people would be forced into the military for Vietnam duty.  On national TV, all the birthdays were picked just like the lottery we see on TV now for Powerball.  The birthdays, all 366 of them were on ping pong balls and they came out of the cage, just like the lottery on TV today.  My birthday was the 35th one picked, but it was the same as winning.  I was a college senior 'living' in a dorm.  I was notified about seven days later that in June of 1970 I would be drafted into the Army if I did not volunteer.

For almost eight years the dread of the Vietnam war hung over me.  I had years of thoughts on being drafted, my thoughtful plan was, "Find something that requires a lot of training, the longer the better, and maybe the war will be over before I am fully trained."  The war was winding down from two years earlier and I thought maybe it will be over by the time I could be trained.  In February, 1970, I joined the Air Force to fly and navigate air planes, two years training at a minimum.  My plan was set.  It is sad, I never talked to God about it.

As time went by, my plan was working.  The war continued to wind down as I went through Officer training and then Navigator training.  22 months after my entry into the Air Force, I was a combat qualified navigator for a C-130 cargo plane.  By Spring 1972, there were about 700 active C-130 navigators in the Air Force and only 40 in S.E. Asia.  My prospects of going to Vietnam in March of '72 looked slim.  My plan had worked, there was even talk of a reduction in force, and people were being forced out of the Air Force!  That was good for me, my plan of nearly 10 years was working, and things were looking great ...... until.

Plan A fails, time for Plan B

The bad part of Plan B, there was no Plan B.  About a week after I was combat qualified, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sent about 200,000 regular troops into South Vietnam.  About 40,000 surrounded a small but important crossroads town of An Loc about 60 miles North of Saigon.  All of a sudden my Plan A was going down in flames.  But, praying was still not on my mind.  At no time did I ever pray about anything during those years, until early May, 1972.

It was Thursday, the first week of May in 1972 when I was "volunteered" to form a crew to assist the Army with testing a new air drop technique.  "Air drop" consists of placing the plane in the proper spot in the air to push out a 2000 lb bundle and that bundle lands on a predetermined spot on the ground.  I was fully qualified to do this at 1200 feet above the ground.  But, things change, especially in war.

A little town in S. Vietnam changed the needs for air drop.  With 40,000 NVA soldiers surrounding that little town of An Loc and wanting to overrun and control the town and its crossroads the Air Force was called to the task.  It became the requirement of the Air Force to resupply the town from the air.  The problem, a gigantic problem was air drop from only 1200 feet.  40,000 bad guys (NVA soldiers) shooting at you from only 1200-1500 feet is not healthy for a C-130 airplane and crews, likewise the new hand carried surface to air missle, SA-7.  Our planes were getting badly shot up with simple small arms fire from the ground as the Air Force was trying to resupply 300 of our surrounded soldiers in An Loc.  The new requirement was air drop from 6,000 feet and the drop zone being a soccer field.  The target for the first bundle from the airplane was the goal net area of the soccer field.  

Parachute Load being Positioned in the Plane

My crew and I arrived at the Army Testing Lab at Pope AFB in North Carolina on a Thursday afternoon and learned of our assignment.  It was to make perfect the capability to drop a 2000 lb bundle from 6,000 feet and hit within 10 meters/yards of a soccer goal. "General, this is impossible, you are nuts", was my first thought.  I had a few other choicey words I choose not to publish.  But, a lieutenant does not tell a General he is absolutely stupidly crazy.  He told me, "Lieutenant, it is your job to determine how to put the plane in the air to hit within 10 meters of the intended soccer goal from 6,000 feet."  My perspective on this requirement was this: my training was at 1200 feet, where an acceptable error was 300 yards/meters and a great score was 100 yards/meters, all this on Fort Bragg's Holland drop zone nearly a mile wide and three miles long.  My honest belief,  a drop error of only 10 meters and a drop zone the size of a soccer field at 6000 feet was absolutely, unconditionally, without exception, totally, and completely mission impossible!

Green Light, Out Goes the Load

On Thursday, we made three test drops. The first drop had a error of 600 yards, six times the length of a soccer field and sixty times the intended margin of error. My second drop was 500 or so yards to the left of target. My third drop was, well.... it totally missed the mile wide by three miles long drop zone! I completely missed the whole, entire three square miles of the Holland drop zone. I was right! This was mission impossible! But, with God, I was going to truly learn that "an impossible mission" is quite possible.

I went home that night thinking I am the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time to figure this out, but my squadron commander told me I knew more about how not to do it than anyone in the Air Force and would not replace me.
Load in Free Fall

Doom and Gloom
was setting in.

Thanks be to God
lonnie  (c) 


In Part 2,  the success of the project is discussed and why my first bedtime prayer in 14 years yielded the successful results.

Click here:   The Power of Prayer, Part 2  

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