A WWII Marine veteran became a life’s mentor
“Tim, I would like you to meet a good friend of mine, this is Bill Powers.” My father- in-law gestured to me with a nod toward his long time friend. I felt his vice like grip as we shook hands. I looked this veteran of World War II over. He was six foot one, a solid two hundred pounds. He had soft looking blue eyes. Wrinkles formed around the sides of his eyes as he smiled.
His hard life growing up on a ranch in Eastern Montana
and the time that he spent in the outdoors pursuing his favorite pastimes of hunting and fishing were beginning to show on his fifty-three year old face. I instantly liked Bill. Our friendship grew as we spent a lot of time together over the years.
A mentor and father figure
Because he was thirty-two years older than I was, he became somewhat of a father image to me. He instilled in me an ‘I can do it’ attitude and one of toughness that has helped and will help me during difficult and unsure times.
A mentor for hunting and fishing
One thing that we had in common was our love of the outdoors. Bill had driven over from Olympia, Washington, where he lived and worked, in order to go deer hunting with my newly acquired father-in-law. The three of us spent some time together in the truck on our way to that first morning’s hunt. I was spellbound as Bill told of his hunting experiences. I felt like I was a young Japanese student sitting under a much older and wiser “Master” as he instructed me in the ways of outdoor skills and hunting savvy.
I learned a lot from him over the years. When we each returned back to the truck the evening of our first hunt, we told one another how the day went. I must have seemed like a
little kid to him with all of my questions. Questions such as: “How did you know that the deer knew that you were there? What made you think the buck was there if you didn’t see
or hear him?” I was full of questions and he seemed to have answers that I had never heard before.
The mentor and his wisdom: know your surroundings
In subsequent years we spent time together doing other activities such as fishing. During these quieter slower moments he related other experiences of his life. I always had
a lot of respect for him because of the sacrifices he made for our country during World War II. He was a Marine. However, once while being transported to enemy territory the ship he was on was sunk.
He was one of a small percentage of men who managed to
survive. As he told this story of survival it became clear to me that it was more than luck that enabled him to live through this and other ordeals.
It was at these times that I would begin my normal volley of questioning. “How did you know which way was up and out
of the ship if all the lights were out and you were underwater?”
To this question he gave lifesaving credit to his years spent in the woods. There he had learned that his life depended on how well he knew the territory he was in. He knew that there were those who had lost their lives when darkness, fog, or foul weather set in and they would become disoriented and died of exposure to the elements.
He said when he first got on a ship he would become very familiar with the shortest route to safety in the least amount
Then that dreadful day came that a torpedo struck his ship, the lights did go out and the water did start to fill his room. He told how he felt his way out. He knew it was four doors to the right to the stairs and one flight of stairs up, turn left, go two more doors and open the second one and he would be free. He was tough.
He said, “Pay attention to me, kid. When you get into a new situation look around and get to know what your options are. Get to know the territory that you’re in. Look around and learn what resources are available to you if an emergency would develop.”
I have learned a lot from Bill about life from these and many other times we spent together. Like him, I have been able to apply some of his ‘I can do it’ attitudes to other areas of my life when things get tough going for me.
In the fall of 2001 Bill turned eighty years old. I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of days in the woods with him. It turned out to be our last trip together. The next spring Bill took another trip by himself. He lived a full and eventful life. I was happy to be a part of it. I am a richer man because of our time together.
Tim Farrand, author of Life’s Mentor
Featured photo of Bill Powers with Tim’s son at 9 years old after he helped the boy get his first buck. Provided by Tim Farrand.