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Freedom in Forgiveness

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Story by Randy Grathen

As a young airman just starting my career in the Air Force, I was involved in an incident that nearly ended my career before it started. My first assignment out of tech school in 1972 was to K.I. Sawyer AFB, Marquette MI as a bomb loader. The 5-man load crew I was a part of was going out to the Flightline to do some training. A load crew is responsible for uploading different “weapons packages” on the aircraft to prepare it for a mission. I worked on B-52s.

An (LST) or Load Standardization Team frequently went out to watch a load crew to evaluation their performance & proficiency while uploading munitions. The LST that was to evaluate our training session was riding in the vehicle with us.

Each man on a five-man load crew has very specific jobs to perform from the moment we hooked onto our equipment trailer until we parked the crew van at the end of the day. As the number “Three-man” on our team I was the designated driver. We stopped to pick up a trailer-mounted generator used to provide electrical power for the aircraft while we trained. The generator is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. I backed the van up to the generator and one of the LST members connected the trailer to the tow hitch, latched and pinned the pintle hook, and we headed down the road towards the flightline.

When you’re towing something that heavy, you can hear it and feel it tugging against the vehicle as it hits every bump and tar-crack in the road. I hadn’t driven 100 yards when suddenly everything went quiet. In the rearview mirror I saw the trailer receding into the distance. Somehow it had become disconnected from the van. As I watched in disbelief - make that horror - the tow bar swung hard right, the generator turned sideways and performed one and a half barrel-rolls down

the street snapping off access panels, pieces, and parts, and slide to a stop against the curb, resting on its side. Thank God it didn’t slide down the road in a shower of sparks because the 50-gallon fuel tank had split at the seams and fuel was pouring into the street. The Team Chief of the LST team jumped out of the truck and ran back to the shop to report to the commander that I rolled the generator.

I was accused of not connecting the tow-bar properly – even though I hadn’t done the connecting, one of his own men did that. And he said I was speeding – which I wasn’t. I told them that the bumper hitch sprung open on its own even though it had been latched and properly pinned. Unfortunately, a Staff Sergeant’s word trumps an airman’s every time. He lied about what happened and how it happened. I got in a LOT of trouble and only barely escaped demotion and being fined for the cost of repair which was in the thousands of dollars. For the next two weeks I had to go down to the repair shop after normal duty hours and help reassemble the generator.

A year later I was vindicated when the incident happened again, with a different trailer, different crew and me driving. A proper investigation was conducted this time and they discovered that the latching mechanism for this new model of hitch was defective on every vehicle in the Air Force - Worldwide. I just happen to be the poor sap that was driving when the first one failed. However, it was all too little too late.

Ok, enough backstory. . .

For the next 20 years, every time I retold that story - and I told it a lot, I got just as angry in the retelling as the day it happened. I hated that man. One night as I was once again retelling the story my wife had heard for the hundredth time, she stopped me in midsentence and said, “That’s enough!” “I don’t want to hear that story one more time.”

She embarrassed me in front of our friends, and I was more than a little angry at her for calling me out in front of them.

To her credit though, Laurie never lets the heat of the moment drive our arguments, ah, I mean, discussions, she waits. At the appropriate time, a.k.a. when I was ready to listen, she said, “You know, you’ve got to get over this.” “Do you think Rodney Bowlin has lost one minute of sleep over something that happened over 20 years ago?” “He probably doesn’t even remember your name.” “The only person being hurt by this is YOU!”

Bam! Truth hurts. She was totally, absolutely, 100% right. It took me a while to wind down from 20 years-worth of hating that man but it wasn’t long after that, that I came to grips with the truth of the matter. Nothing was going to change what happened. No matter how long I complained about it, it was history. No matter how many times I relived it, the outcome would always be the same. The past does not allow do-overs. But it does allow us to learn from it. And as God always does, He didn't let this lesson go to waste.

I can tell this story now without the slightest bit of anger. In fact, I’ve learned to use it as a tool to explain to others what unforgiveness can do to the unforgiver. It poisons you and it can start a person on a life-long path of the blame game. It’s always someone’s else’s fault. But true freedom comes with surrendering the grudge. Forgiving the other person and asking God for forgiveness for our unwarranted anger.

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32.)

P.S. I have no way to get ahold of Rodney Bowlin to tell him I forgive him. More importantly, as Laurie pointed out, he probably doesn’t even remember me at all. Forgiving him, healed me.

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