War is a terrible way to settle problems between nations, for it often results in the deaths of millions of innocent people. World War II was historically the bloodiest war ever. Today, there are more wars than ever.
My name is Gregg Richards. I am a teacher in a small Seventh-day Adventist group in Bishop, California. This is the story about a member of our small group who was a Navy fighter pilot in WW II. His name is Bob Hambley.
Bob is 98 years of age; he lives by himself and still drives. He joined the Navy to do his part in saving our country from the invasion of the Japanese and the Germans. Bob was 20 years old when he joined the military. He had never been exposed to God then, but he now knows that without God‘s intervention, he would have died at the age of 22. The following statements are just some of the dangers he faced as a fighter pilot. He has three fighter planes at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and one he had to bail out of over land. He gives full credit to our great Saviour, because he knows that without God’s intervention he would never have seen tomorrow. Written in his own words, Bob describes just a couple of the difficult situations he had to face.
Graduation Day was only two weeks away when we would receive our Gold Wings and Commission as Ensigns in the United States Naval Reserve. Some of us, however, had to make up two hours of night flying in order to fulfill graduation requirements.
Two of us took off about 9:00 pm and flew in formation for the required time and then were preparing to land at the airbase. I wiggled my wings as a sign that I was going to leave the formation and drop down from 3,000 feet to 800 feet and enter the traffic pattern. The other pilot was to stay at his altitude and make a 360-degree turn leaving sufficient space between our two planes so as to eliminate any mid-air collisions.
As I entered the traffic pattern at 800 feet, I was suddenly hit by the pilot who was supposed to have stayed up to prevent such an accident. When he hit my plane, I couldn’t imagine what had happened. I knew I was in a dangerous situation. The other pilot told me sometime later, that he fell sound asleep and when he hit my plane, he said he could see me in the cockpit and could even see my instrument panel. He instantly hit his release button and bailed out. We were the only two aircraft flying in the area at this hour, with the whole sky to ourselves. The odds of having such an accident were astronomical.
Realizing the perilous condition I found myself in, I knew I had to leave the plane instantly, so I released my seat belts and it felt like an arm lifted me right out of the cockpit. I reached for my ripcord but could not find it. After about three grabs, I pulled the ripcord and heard a pop, but I was swinging so far out that I feared all of the air would come out of the parachute and I would drop without it. I pulled on one of the shroud lines to stop the swinging and then I hit the ground. I remember when I hit the ground that I did a tuck and roll which is what we were taught to do in parachute school, but I did this automatically without thinking and wound up lying on my back. Looking at the stars above me I realized that I had been saved from certain death.
I lay there for a moment contemplating what had just happened and realized that God was the only answer to my still being alive. One minute I was safely flying my airplane and getting ready to land and five or six minutes later, I am lying on the ground without a scratch. I hit the ground about as hard as a mother would lay her baby in its crib. I did not land in a cactus patch, on a tree, or on a rooftop or any other hazardous terrain, but just where my Savior wanted me to land. I did not know what the surrounding territory was like because it was so dark, so I knelt and gave a prayer of thanks to God, who at that time I did not know.
In the distance I heard a cry for help. Now I knew that my fellow pilot had survived the collision, so I called and kept calling for him to answer so I could find my way to where he was. When I found him, he was laying on his back and I told him not to move until I could see if he had broken bones or in any way was not able to move. He also had not been injured; so I helped him get up and he asked me, “What are we going to do now?”
In the distance we could see a big search light. It was our airbase. It was about 1:00 in the morning and they were waiting for us to come home. We started walking in that direction and after walking some distance, we heard the barking of a very large dog; so we knew there would be a home nearby. We just hoped that the dog was chained. We went to the house and knocked on the door and the man who answered had heard the collision. I asked if we could use his telephone to call the base. He did not have a telephone, but had a car and was willing to drive us to town where we could find a telephone. By then it was about 2:00 in the morning. After we contacted the base, a jeep was sent to pick us up.
The next morning, we were required to fly for one hour to be sure we were not affected by the collision in any way. We both passed the test and could now look forward to receiving our Gold Wings and Commission and to continue whatever assignment was ahead. We were looking forward to flying real fighter planes, whereas before we were flying advanced trainers. After graduation, I never again saw or heard from the pilot who had crashed into my plane.
Drama in the Storm
One of several other life and death experiences I had was when I was assigned to Melbourne, Florida, after coming back from overseas. I was to train four new ensigns and two instructors in Advanced Combat Training. None of the six had ever flown a real Navy fighter plane and we were going to train on the new Grumman Hellcat. My job was to familiarize them with navigation, gunnery and all the other things that a fighter pilot needed to know before going into combat.
One day, I had my group in the Gulf of Mexico and we were practicing making runs on a target that was towed by an airplane and learning the different approaches in confronting the enemy. My plane began to have engine problems; so I picked up my microphone and told my group to continue practicing the drills and that I would be back as soon as possible. When I landed at the airbase, I told one of the mechanics that I needed another plane and that my group was practicing in the Gulf and I needed to get back to them. He pointed to a Hellcat that was ready to go, so I jumped in and took off heading to the Gulf to join up with my group. Suddenly a terrific storm came up in the Gulf and all planes were to return to the base as soon as possible. This storm was one of the most severe I had ever encountered with lightning, thunder, and tremendously heavy rain and wind. I turned back toward the base and knew that if I flew east, I would hit the coast of Florida and then north to my base.
The Biscayne Highway goes from Maine to Miami and has four lanes traveling north and four lanes travelling south. This highway is located right along the east coast of Florida and my airfield is located on the other side of this highway. At that time, the ceiling of the horrific storm was only 150 feet from the ground, so I could fly no higher than that. After crossing Florida to the ocean, I turned north. The thunder and lightning was so severe that I had to disconnect my headset. There were thousands of cars on the highway that could not move and were stacked up for miles going in both directions because the rain was so heavy that their windshield wipers could not clear enough to drive.
I was flying about 100 feet above the cars and when I glanced at my fuel gauge it showed that I was on empty. Here I was flying a seven-ton Hellcat just above the thousands of cars and my instruments tell me my engine will quit at any second. I moved to the right side of the highway so as not to be flying over the cars. The terrain was like a jungle without any trees and I thought at any second my 2000 horsepower engine would stop. I decided that when it did, I had no option than to roll my plane to the right and dive it into the ground. I did not want to try for a landing because I knew I could be badly injured and would not be rescued for hours. I would rather be killed instantly and not have to suffer. I knew that when the propeller stopped, I was going to die.
Looking to my left, I saw a lake and knew then that I was hopelessly lost because I had flown this area many times and had never seen a lake. My heart sank, but as I looked again I saw a tower in the lake and then noticed some hangars and realized that it was my airbase which was flooded. Now my problem was to get across the eight lanes of parked cars and get over the fence to the airfield. In my mind I thought I could make it without crashing into the cars, even if the engine quit. I dropped my flaps to get more lift and made it over the fence onto the airbase. I dropped my landing gear and landed on a runway. The water was so deep that it was almost like a water landing. The water flew over my plane slowing me down immediately. I made a turn to the right and my engine quit. The plane was out of gas.
Had I gone a little further to my usual parking spot I would not have realized that my Savior had saved me again. My plane did not have a faulty gauge, I was out of gas and Jesus kept that engine running until I was safe. I jumped out of my plane into the driving rain and ran to my room in the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) and lay on my bed soaking wet, once again praising the Lord for giving me my life back.
In later years, I had a hip replacement which caused a great deal of pain. Physical therapy was not helping until a friend told me about a physical therapist who had helped him a great deal and suggested I make an appointment with him. His name is Gregg Richards, who not only relieved my hip pain, but invited me to attend his Sabbath Day meeting where he is a teacher. I started meeting with this group at the age of 90 and have stayed with them ever since. On September 15th 2012 I was baptized in an outdoor natural hot spring in Bishop, California.
In closing, I want to thank Gregg for all I have learned about the Bible. It has changed my life completely. Thank-you God for saving my life. May my life’s story be a blessing to others.
As told to Gregg Richards, Three Angels Ministry. You can contact us at: email@example.com