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Posted: June 26, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Close Calls

I was born in 1951, exactly one week after President Harry S Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur and promoted Lieutenant-General Matthew Ridgway to Supreme Commander, Korea.

As I lay swaddled in diapers and comfy little blankets, American and Chinese soldiers engaged in unimaginably desperate hand-to-hand combat along something called the "No-Name Line" in Korea. Americans narrowly averted disaster with feats of selfless bravery.

About the time I learned to walk, an armistice halted the fighting along a two-mile wide buffer zone which today separates North and South Korea. The "No-Name Line" became the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Korean War veterans finally received an official memorial in Washington in 1995. More than 54,000 died in that war, and more than 103,000 were wounded. But sandwiched between World War II ("the last good war") and the Vietnam War (the scars from which still sear the soul of this nation), the Korean War had become "America's Forgotten War."

Lost in the spectacle surrounding MacArthur's ouster was widespread understanding of how very nearly Korea had come to falling to China in the first outright conflict of The Cold War.

It had been a very close call, indeed.

Much has happened since 1951, for sure. And over those years I've experienced close calls of my own.

When my dad operated a hardware business in my hometown of Greensboro, Ga., he delivered sheetrock, plywood, and other similarly sized items in the bed of his 1951 Ford pickup truck. One fine day in the summer of 1959 Daddy let me ride in the back of the truck atop a load of 2-by-4's. As we started up a slight grade, westbound toward Madison on U.S. Highway 278 in those days pre-dating Interstate 20, the load of lumber slid out the back of the truck. And there I sat, smack dab in the middle of what was then the main artery for all traffic between Atlanta and Augusta, with a semi-truck bearing down on me.

The truck stopped, obviously, and the driver even helped Daddy load the lumber back in the truck. But you better believe that I rode up front with Daddy the rest of that day.

Oh, teenagers do dumb things, don't they? I reckon one of the dumbest things I ever did occurred one night in 1968 when I decided to see just how fast my 1964 Chevy Impala could go. I'd just put a new set of fashionable red stripe, wide oval tires on her, and on a deserted stretch of road put the pedal to the metal and let the 327 roar. Just as I topped out near 115 a falling star caught my eye; I got on the brakes and turned down a dirt road to investigate. Then, at 10 mph, the front right, brand new, fashionable red stripe, wide oval tire blew out.

I did a lot of thinking, contemplating what would have happened had the tire blown at 115 mph instead of 10, as I changed that flat on an uneven dirt road on a pitch black night.

They say experience is the great teacher. Apparently, though, I was not a great student, for I was not yet finished with close calls. There were three that I can recall clearly which came over the course of my flirtation with motorcycles. The closest of those occurred on Memorial Drive near Stone Mountain, when I was hidden from a driver's view by his windshield post. The guy pulled out in front of me, and was so close I can tell you that his headlight bezel was held in place by a Phillips-head screw.

I don't ride any longer. I've lost one good friend, and seen another permanently crippled, and in both cases they were not at fault. And although my experiences make me highly aware of motorcycles, there was a morning just a few months ago when I was rushing to make a turn and never saw a guy on a Harley coming from my right side. The thick windshield pillar completely obscured the big low rider from my view, and although I did not hit him, the close call left me shaken.

But when considering these and other close calls which space herein doesn't permit me to describe, I hearken back to April 18, 1951, and my entrance into this world.

For way back then, the politically correct word in America was "adoption," not today's "abortion."

For I'm an adopted child, you see. And I'm forever aware, and eternally grateful, that I was given a life from that closest of calls.

Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column appears Sundays.

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