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Now There is Being Lucky and There is Being Lucky

by Hap Rocketto

One of the definitions of things that happen to us which are out of our control is luck. Luck can be good and luck can be bad.

There are some people for whom it might be said that they are both. For example let us look at Tsutomu Yamaguchi who, as a young draftsman for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima on a business trip. He was leaving for home when the US Army Air Forces B-29 Enola Gay, named after pilot Paul Tibbets’ mother, dropped “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb. The seriously burned Yamaguchi spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned his hometown. Three days later Yamaguchi was regaling his boss about his trials and tribulations when a second B-29, Bockscar, named after its pilot Fred Bock, droned over Nagasaki and loosed the second atomic bomb “Fat Man.” It certainly was bad luck for Yamaguchi to be at the site of the only two atomic bombs dropped in anger in history but lucky enough to survive them and live to be 93.

Then there is the case of Violet Constance Jessop who found that the third time is not always the charm. Jessop was a White Star Line stewardess aboard the RMS Olympic when it collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke on September 11, 1911. The Olympic was heavily damaged but not in danger of sinking. Never the less Jessop felt uncomfortable sailing in her after the incident and sought a larger and safer ship. She next shipped aboard the Olympic’s sister ship the RMS Titanic.

Four days after leaving Queenstown Jessop was fished out of the frigid North Atlantic, while the Titanic rested on the seabed 12,000 feet below her. She wisely sought a change of occupation so Stewardess Jessop left the sea and trained as a nurse. About 8:30 on the morning of November 21, 1916 Jessop was going about her nursing duties aboard His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Britannic when she was startled by an explosion caused when the ship struck a mine. Fifty five minutes later Jessop was bobbing in a life boat in the Mediterranean. It was bad luck to be aboard all three of the ill-fated ships of the White Star Line’s Olympic class ocean liners during disasters but good luck to survive all three and live to the ripe old age of 84.

The case of Roy Cleveland Sullivan is intriguing as the lucky US Park Service Ranger beat the odds. In the 35 years between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times and survived all of them. The odds of being struck just once by Jupiter’s Darts are 3,000 to one. To have Sullivan’s luck the odds increase to an astronomical twenty-two septillion to one, a 22 followed by 24 zeros. To ice the cake his wife was struck once. Having been struck by lightning is truly unlucky but to have lived is lucky. However, Sullivan took his own life at 71 over “unrequited” (read that unlucky) love” so we may presume that he was lucky in cards.

Jason and Jenny Cairns-Lawrence were enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City on September 11, 2001 when terrorists took down the Twin Towers. On July 7, 2005 they were at home in London when bombs were set off in multiple locations in London’s subways system. Like their fellow loyal subject of the crown Jessop the third time was not the charm. Three years later they were in Mumbai, India for a third try at a relaxing vacation. Mumbai experienced a three day terror attack. Unlucky vacation planning but a good survival rate for the British tourists who probably wished that had tried a “Staycation.”

Robert Todd Lincoln was 21 when his father was assassinated. The younger Lincoln followed his father into public service and was eventually appointed Secretary of War in the Garfield Administration. On the morning of July 2, 1881, Garfield and Lincoln were walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to catch a train when Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. Twenty years later Lincoln accompanied President William McKinley to Buffalo where, on June 13, 1901, Leon Czolgosz elevated Teddy Roosevelt to the presidency by pumping two 32 caliber rounds from an Iver Johnson revolver into McKinley’s stomach. After being present at his third presidential assassination Lincoln habitually turned down any presidential invitation offered him. He ruefully remarked that “…there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.”

Then there was poor C.I. Shootwell, to whom Dame Fortune was seldom kind. C.I. approached life with passion and zeal but he was just unlucky. He loved playing the ponies and various gaming tables but they did not love him. He played the stock market but generally bought high and sold low.

His greatest delight was prone shooting for he loved the people and all of the aspects of the sport-the social, the technical, and historical. C.I. was not a great rifleman; in fact he never shot a 1600 and only occasionally managed a 400. An occasional place in class at Perry was enough to keep his spirits high and his hopes alive.

Unfortunately, in the spring prior to Perry C.I. fell ill and passed away before the National Championship. In his will he requested that he be cremated, his ashes taken to Perry, poured onto the X ring of a 100 yard target-as that was a place he seldom found himself with any regularity, and then scattered on the firing line at the place where he spent so many happy hours with his shooting companions.

Accordingly, after the first day of prone, his friends discreetly assembled on the firing line to carry out C.I.’s last wishes. It was a bright and sunny day and many fine words were said about their departed friend. The impromptu service drew to a close and, obedient to his words, C.I.’s ashes were decanted from the urn and, just as had happened to him so many times in his life, a gust of wind came up and blew the unlucky C.I into the nine ring.

There is being lucky and there is being lucky.

Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.

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