Shortening Lifespans in China

The Beijing sky during an earlier visit.
There’s a story in the New York Times about urban Chinese fleeing to the countryside to escape pollution. I can relate.

I lived in China in 2005 as a Fulbright lecturer at Tsinghua University. I remember the day I had planned to walk to Beijing University and then on to a five-story building of nothing but bookstores. Well, the pollution was so great I stayed inside instead.

I used to wonder if the Chinese knew what they were doing to themselves. That wonderment was dispelled when I visited Dalian to give a few lectures and was shown about by the university’s foreign officer (who got the job because she spoke English). She told me that a week before her grandmother had died at age 95.
Wow, I said, think of the history she saw.

I then said that because of genes she’d probably live a long time. It took us a couple of minutes to work through jeans and genes but when I finally made myself clear, she firmly replied: No. Pollution.

The government was able to clean up Beijing for the Olympics but the city has since gone backwards. That foreign officer in Dalian isn’t the only one who will have a short life.

Many Beijingers will, too. 


He Also Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

When we think of veterans who died while serving our country, we usually think of the men and women who were killed in action. Let me tell you about a sailor who died on duty and was probably promptly forgotten by most other than his immediate family.

I know this story because I was a radioman on a commodore’s staff, meaning I got to see a lot of the radio traffic not just for the flagship, but for the squadron.

It was 1967, my last year in the Navy. We were on a Mediterranean cruise and enjoying liberty, probably in Italy. A petty officer from another ship while on shore patrol was helping bring a belligerent (read: drunk) sailor back to the ship. The sailor was in such shape that he had to be transported strapped to a stretcher. Since we were anchored in the bay rather than pulled up to a pier, this also meant the belligerent sailor had to be returned to the ship via a liberty boat. (We were in an amphibious squadron so our liberty boats were the kind of landing craft you see in movies and photos of the invasion of Europe on D-Day.)

The sailors had managed to get the stretcher off the boat and were ready to haul it up the ladder (really more like steps). The petty officer I’m writing about was at the foot of the stretcher and as the sailors readied to lift the stretcher, the sailor on the stretcher gave a hard kick to the petty officer's chest.

He died of a heart attack.

When I first saw the radio message about the incident, I figured the kicking sailor would be hauled up on manslaughter charges and be sentenced to brig time.

But the court of inquiry that was convened ruled that there was no way to prove if the kick triggered the heart attack that killed the petty officer. The court opined that the petty officer could have just as easily had a heart attack had he been walking around the ship.

Medically and legally, the court was probably right, but I always felt it was an injustice to the petty officer who was just doing his duty. I know he was a career man and had a family waiting for him and depending on him in Virginia. With one swift kick the family lost its breadwinner.

This is my belated memorial to a sailor whose name I’ve forgotten who was killed in the line of duty somewhere in a foreign land 46 years ago. He also served and he also gave his life.