When we think “awe” in the military, we usually think “shock and awe.” But Psychologist Paul Pearsall argued that awe — a feeling of wonderment teetering on the edge of fear—is what actually takes us closest to the meaning of life.
Awe is not joy and it is not happiness. Awe can be found in natural beauty as well as natural disaster, in death as much as life.
I found myself filled with that kind of awe at a recent story about military life that has been making its way around Facebook. It’s the story of EM2 Bud Cloud and his adopted daughter Jennie Haskamp. It’s the story of the crew of the USS Dewey and things that are done right.
According to Jennie’s post, in the last days of his life, Bud Cloud decided that what he wanted most was a trip to visit the Navy in San Diego. He had served aboard the USS Dewey DDG-349 at Pearl Harbor.
Jennie, a Marine veteran, was hoping to give him a windshield shield tour when she called around to try to get base access. Instead, she was given an invitation to visit the ship. Bud was met at the pier by a group of sailors from the USS Dewey DDG-105.
“Unbeknownst to us, they’d decided to host Bud aboard the Dewey, not at the Dewey,” wrote Jennie. “And so they carried him aboard.” Bud didn’t expect that. No one did. Bud was ecstatic. Jennie describes it:
Once aboard, we were greeted by the CO, CDR Jake Douglass, the XO and a reinforced platoon-sized group of Sailors. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. These men and women waited in line to introduce themselves to Bud. They shook his hand, asked for photos with him, and swapped stories. It was simply amazing.
The sailors didn’t just talk to Bud, they listened. Since his voice was barely a whisper, when he would tell a story sailors would repeat it to the group.
At the end of the visit, Bud was asked to return and Jennie quietly informed the Command Master Chief that Bud had less than 30 days to live. The CMC offered to provide funeral honors for Bud. Then,
They piped him ashore. CMDCM Grgetich leaned in and quietly told me how significant that honor was and who it’s usually reserved for as we headed towards the gangplank. Hearing “Electrician’s Mate Second Class William Bud Cloud, Pearl Harbor Survivor, departing” announced over the 1MC was surreal. (See the ceremony here.)
And that’s when I was filled with awe over this story. Not because it was a big thing. Not because it would appear on CNN or that anyone will make a movie about it. I was filled with that life within death kind of awe because in this instance those sailors got to see the meaning in their work.
They can’t have met someone like Bud Cloud and missed the fact that military service stays with you. All your life it stays with you. It means something.
For some people, it blights their entire lives. For some, surely, it is shrugged away.
For people like Bud, military service means something in a way that stays with you. There is something in it so good that at the end of your life you want to touch a piece of it again.
It stays with you so that a Marine veteran like Jennie understands that this is not an old man’s wish to be patted away.
It stays with you so that the captain and the XO and the CMC stopped the neverending work aboard a ship so that their sailors could get a glimpse of a time that will come to all of them.
Human beings need meaningful work. They need to belong to something bigger than themselves. And at the end of their lives it means something to be accepted back into that fold. Which fills me with awe.
Photo of Bud Cloud by Jennie Haskell.