6 Survival Stories from the book "Fight On"

“Fight on!”  Written by Dr. Samuel P. Gipp, is an uplifting book, its subtitle is “A collection of stories about those who have persevered through hardship and danger”.  There are about 225 stories.


 “Alone on the Ice”   (Page 138-141)


Three portable fisherman’s shanties dotted the two-foot thick ice on the northern end of Lake Michigan just west of snow-covered Crane Island that Tuesday morning in January of 1929.  Inside one of them, fisherman Lewis Sweet heard the wind begin to pick up.  He went outside and checked, it was blowing from the west towards the shore.  There was no danger.  A little latter he heard his two fellow fishermen call him from outside.  They were going in.  The wind had turned and was blowing from the northeast, away from the shoreline.  There was a good chance the huge sheet of ice could break away from the shoreline, stranding the three fishermen adrift Sweet, who had caught one trout already, told them he would be along shortly.  HE wanted to catch one more fish.  It was the wrong decision.  Thirty minutes later he heard the ominous report of breaking ice.  He ran from his tent to see a broken ribbon of open water between him and the shore that, even as he watched, it widened too much for him to try to cross.  Sweet went back to his tent only armed with his fish and his ax.  He knew he could not stay inside the tent.  He would have to keep vigil out on the ice to watch new and dangerous cracks.   The wind had now blown into a gale.  As he built a windbreak of snow, he heard another report and watched as his fishing shanty was swallowed up by the breaking ice.  Soon the other two tents collapsed and disappeared.  The floe was now moving out into the 60-mile wide lake as it rippled on the violent water.  On his journey out into the lake, Sweet watched as he drifted by the safety of the derelict Wargoshance Light in the distance.  Then one by one, Hat and Hog Islands taunted him as day turned into night.  The wind chilled him as the violence of the storm prevented rescuers from mounting an effective search.  Sweet battled to survive on the ice, jumping from one floe to the next, the wind shifted and began to push the ice back the way it had come from.  Early Wednesday morning Sweet’s ice floe collided with the reef around the remote and desolate White Shoals Lighthouse, which had recently been vacated for the winter by it’s crew.  Safety was at hand, but the lighthouse stood on a manmade concrete island whose ice covered walls stood 22 feet straight up out of the water.  With two frozen clubs for hands and two frozen tree stumps for feet, Sweet began the slow, agonizing task of chopping ice off the ladder leading to safety.  Up he went, slowly, frequently having to descend again to retrieve the ax that his frozen hands dropped.  Within three feet of the top, the ax again tumbled from his grip.  Down he went to retrieve it.  But this time he knew he was beaten.  His hands were too frozen to wield the tool.  His feet were too frozen to climb the rungs another time.  It was time to give up and die…22 feet from warmth and life.

                But Lewis Sweet refused to give in to death.  He pondered how to gain the height to safety.  Then it came to him.  He could build a staircase of the broken blocks of ice!  He went to work, and, three agonizing hours, later Sweet dragged himself through the unlocked door to safety.  Inside he found food, kerosene stoves and matches.  But all he had the strength to do was to cut the shoes off his frostbitten feet, light the stoves and fall into bed and sleep.  It was Thursday when he woke up.  That morning he cooked himself his first meal in two days and pondered his escape from winter’s grip.  There was a breaking field of ice and fissures of open water between him and Cross Village some 20 miles away.  Then about noon  he heard the sound of an airplane circling the lighthouse.  It was part of the search team examining one of the most unlikely spots for finding a survivor.  The living quarters were three floors above the door he had entered and one floor below the lens room at the top of the lighthouse.  Sweet hobbled up the staircase on swollen, blistered feet to exit the door only to see his would-be rescue craft flying off to the south.  That night he gazed at the distant lights of Cross Village and thought about the warmth, the humanity, the life that stood so temptingly close to him.  Friday morning he laid out towels and clothing for signal flags for other search vessels that would never come.  That night he lit and waved an oil soaked rag that was to faint to be seen in the village.  He could have stayed there for weeks, but he knew his physical condition would not allow it.  His blackened, swollen feet were covered with new blisters that constantly broke.  Saturday night was clear and frigid, but Sweet repeatedly waved his burning rag to attract the attention of eyes that were no longer looking.  That day the search had been called off.  He was truly on his own.

                He awoke Sunday morning to find the frigid night air had filled the water channels between him and shore with fresh, hard ice.  He would eat and depart to try to trek the 20 difficult miles to Cross Village before another bone chilling night descended on him.  By now his feet were too swollen to fit into shoes, so Sweet donned multiple pairs of woolen socks, slipped on the rubbers he had been wearing over his shoes and painfully climbed down the lighthouse stairway, descended his ice staircase and was off.  Sweet hobbled over the uneven frozen surface at a pace that was as painful as his feet were.  At times his feet were useless he crawled on all fours.  But he had to make the village before dark.  In his condition another frigid night on the ice would assure his death.  He made wide circles around places where the ice looked unable to support him.  He staggered right over the area where he’d been fishing six days earlier.  Still seven miles from shore, darkness overtook him, and the night cold again assaulted his weak frame.  He plodded on.  Then in the darkness he stumbled onto an abandoned fisherman’s shanty, not unlike his own, which he had watched the ice devour.  All it offered was an old stove, some coffee and protection from the wind.  Sweet brewed himself some coffee and then fell into the cot and slept the night through.  Monday morning found him terribly sick from the frozen mild he had put on the coffee.  He lay all day and night in the shanty, too ill to move.  Tuesday morning he rallied his small reservoir of strength and pushed himself out of the tent in the direction of the shore, determined that this would be the day he would make it in.  Hobbling, stumbling, falling, he forced himself across the frozen surface.  Finally, around noon he stumbled into the town ad was found by a villager and taken to the hospital.  He still had his ax and the lone frozen trout he had refused to cast away.  He would emerge from the hospital ten weeks later without any of his fingers and toes.  But he still possessed his most important attribute, his fierce determination to survive.  Fight on!




Relentless Rescuer  (page 157)


On August 10, 1966, a battalion of Marines was heavily engaged with a large number of North Vietnam regular Army (NVA) troops during operation COLORADO.  Four old H-34 helicopters were sent in to bring out the wounded Marines.  Fire at their Landing Zone was intense that two of them left the area and arrived at their base too shot up to return.  But Captain Robert J. Sheehan managed nine trips into the maelstrom to retrieve his wounded comrades.  On his last trip, his craft became “bullet magnet”.  Sheehan had two last casualties to load before he could take off, but they were five long minutes before arriving.  Bullets tore up the foliage around the helicopter.  Geysers of dirt exploded on the ground, but still Sheehan waited.  He could hear the enemy rounds impacting his craft as the NVA found his range.  When he was told to get out while he could, Sheehan flatly stated, “I’m not leaving without those two Marines.”  Finally the wounded men were loaded onboard, and Sheehan poured the kerosene to his turbine engine, wobbled into the air and blazed out of the area at tree top level.  Mission accomplished.  Fight on!



The Brave, Short Walk   (page 177)


He survived the brutally cruel Death March of Bataan.  He had been a prisoner-of-war with the Japanese for three and a half years.  He suffered from beriberi, lice, malaria and various other jungle diseases as well as horrendous malnutrition and mistreatment at the hands of his Japanese captors.  He had been lying on his rattan mat in the prison camp at Cabantuan City in the Philippines, too weak to work or stand up.  That night, January 30, 1945, an elite team of U. S. Army Rangers stormed the camp to rescue the prisoners from Japanese execution.  A Ranger appeared in the doorway and bent down to help him up when suddenly the talking skeleton of a man blurted out, “I can walk!  For God’s sake I’m an American solider!”  He then struggled to his feet, shuffled to the doorway…and collapsed.  Two Rangers appeared and carried him to freedom.  Fight on!



Amazing Mary McCauley  (page 169)


During the American Revolution, the sweltering temperatures during the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, were almost as deadly as the British.  Colonial fighters drooped and dropped from heat exhaustion and dehydration during the grueling day-long battle.  Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, whose husband was a cannoneer in the battle, saw the dire situation and meant to do something to help the beleaguered Colonials.  She gathered pitchers and made trip after trip to a nearby stream and rushed the life-giving liquid back to the prostrate soldiers.  Then word came that her own husband had dropped from heat exhaustion.  She ministered water to him and laid him in the shade, grabbed the ramrod and ordered the other artillery man to load the cannon.  She serviced the cannon the rest of the afternoon until the British finally retreated.  Exhausted herself from the battle, she made her way over to her husband’s side and lay beside his unconscious form.  Both survived and later lived out their lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

                Because of her heroic action as cannoneer she was granted a sergeant’s commission and half-pay for life.  Because of her selfless act of rejuvenating the stricken men, she went down in history as “Molly Pitcher”.”  Fight on!



Sitting Ducks can Bite  (page 221)


On March 31, 1943, 2nd Lt. Owen Baggett was copilot on a B-24 on a bombing mission over India.  The aircraft was mortally wounded by Japanese fighters, and the crew was ordered to bail out by the pilot.  As the American crewmen hung helplessly in their parachute harness, the Japanese pilots strafed them, killing several.  Lt. Baggett was wounded in the air by the pilot who circled back around, pushed back his canopy, and flew up to him nose-up at stall speed to get a better look at his victim.  Baggett, who had been playing dead, pulled the .45 pistol and sent four shots into the open cockpit.  The Zero spun and crashed.

                Later investigations confirmed that the pilot, whose body had been thrown clear of the wreckage, had died from a single bullet wound to the head.  Fight on!



Makes a Son Proud  (page 288)


On the fateful April 3rd in 1977, when a tornado devastated Xenia, Ohio, 147 other tornadoes were also loosing their destructive power along a path stretching from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, to Alabama in the deep South.

                In  Bear Branch, Indiana, a twister slammed into the home of Halbert Walston.  The storm hit with such force that it drove Walston straight through the wall of his house and threw him 40 feet out in back of what had been his house, breaking his ankle, five ribs and puncturing a lung.  But, oblivious of his own injuries, Walston struggled back to the wreckage of his house to rescue his wife and son, Michael, whose arm had been almost completely severed at the elbow.  Disreguarding his own injuries and tremendous pain, Walston pinched off the boy’s artery and held it until his wife could go for help, saving their son’s life.  Fight on!