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Bill Goss: An Unsung Living Hero: Hap Halloran on Post-Traumatic Growth
Bill Goss: An Unsung Living Hero -- Hap Halloran on Post-Traumatic Growth


About the Author

Lt. Commander Bill Goss, USN (Ret) is an internationally known speaker and author. Enlisting in 1974, Bill worked on underwater weapons in Europe for the U.S. Navy until he was discharged as a Mineman Second Class in 1977. A former New Jersey Golden Glove boxer, Bill was also the light-heavy weight boxing champion at the U.S. Naval Air Stations in Pensacola, Corpus Christi, and Jacksonville. After his enlisted tour of duty, Bill attended Rutgers University on the GI Bill and earned an MBA from the Southern New Hampshire University. Bill graduated Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, and earned his Navy Wings of Gold the following year in Corpus Christi, Texas.

As a P-3 Orion pilot, Bill flew missions against Soviet submarines in the North and South Atlantic and Mediterranean and deployed to a very wide variety of sites around the world. He became an instructor pilot in the T-44 Pegasus and then the Assistant Navigator of the nuclear aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, deploying throughout the Pacific from the Vinson's homeport in the San Francisco Bay area. Bill and his family returned to the east coast where he flew P-3 Orions and a variety of other aircraft while working for the admiral at NAS Jacksonville.

While there, Bill was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called amelanotic malignant melanoma, had surgery, and retired from the Navy. Bill is the author of The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive: A Wild Ride Overcoming Life's Greatest Challenges -- And How You Can Too. His second book, published by Simon and Schuster's newest hardcover imprint, Atria Books, is titled There's a Flying Squirrel in My Coffee: Overcoming Cancer With the Help of My Pet.

Bill is a contributing writer to many other books including the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul. Bill's life story has been featured on national and international radio shows, and in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, New Jersey Star Ledger, The Dallas Morning News, The St. Petersburg Times, and Maxim Magazine.

A motivational and inspirational speaker, Bill is featured every month on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet. Bill's mailing address is:

Bill Goss International
P.O. Box 7060
Orange Park, FL 32073

Email Bill Goss at billgoss@billgoss.com

The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive -- Bill Goss' bestselling book.

There's a Flying Squirrel in My Coffee -- Bill Goss' latest book, chronicling his inspirational battle against cancer.

Related Links

Bill Goss' Website: www.BillGoss.com

Bill Goss Column Archive

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Global Hotspots: Iraq

July 15, 2003

[Have an opinion on this column? Sound off here.]

My last op-ed piece on Post Traumatic Growth got some very positive and interesting responses, but the email below from a WWII veteran was so noteworthy, that I thought my loyal readers should get a chance to read it themselves in its entirety. In fact I asked the writer to send me some photographs of himself to include with his fascinating email.

To me, this remarkable man, Hap Halloran, is an unsung living hero. And somehow I feel that you too - after you read his amazing story - will consider him an unsung living hero also.

Hap Halloran and medal, in 2001.

Here's the email Hap Halloran sent to me:

Dear Bill,

I was extremely intrigued and interested in the "Post Traumatic Growth" op-ed piece you recently wrote for Military.com.

Prior to reading your article, I was not familiar with the term "Post Traumatic Growth." I reread your article and it caused me to reflect back on some of the traumatic experiences I had personally endured during the last world war.

During WWII, I was the navigator of a B-29 bomber based out of the Island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean. Our mission was to bomb targets on the Japanese mainland. These were very high altitude and long range missions of 14 to 16 hours duration. The average age of our eleven man crew was 21. I was 22.

On January 27, 1945, our B-29 was shot down by a Japanese fighter plane over Tokyo at 32,000 feet. Fear and denial set in immediately among our crew, but realistically we all knew that we had to abandon our plane - it was on fire with two engines out. And as if that wasn't enough for us to worry about, the normally pressurized and heated interior of our plane had been ruptured and we were dealing with an outside air temperature of 58 degrees below zero at 32,000 feet. We would freeze solid if we didn't act fast. We had no choice but to attempt to parachute out of our disabled bomber, and to do so as fast as possible.

As the order went out, "Bail out, Bail out" we were terror-stricken young men and boys, but somehow we maintained our composure. I prayed to God, for myself and for my fellow crewmen. We embraced each other quickly, then we jumped from our dying ship at 27,000 feet altitude and parachuted over enemy soil, just east of Tokyo. To avoid freezing or passing out from lack of oxygen at such a high altitude, I elected to free fall until I was approximately 3,000 feet above the ground, at which time I pulled my ripcord and thankfully my parachute blossomed above my head.

I was immediately captured by a group comprised of very angry Japanese civilians and military personnel, who beat me so badly I thought I would be killed. It turned out I'd been one of the lucky ones, because some of my fellow crewmen were beaten to death that very same day.

For what seemed like a very long time, I wavered between life and death. Subsequently I was forced to sign documents acknowledging that I'd been part of an indiscriminate bombing campaign which had killed civilians. I was also forced to sign a waver of my Geneva Conference Prisoner of War rights. I was not considered a POW by the Japanese, but instead a Federal Prisoner. I was charged with murder and I was held captive - with a death sentence over my head every single day of the 215 days I survived - until I was liberated from this living Hell at the end of the war.

The conditions I endured were almost indescribably brutal and terrifying. I endured solitary confinement in a frigid, dark cage for long periods of time, broken up occasional by severe beatings and interrogations from the prison guards. Food consisted of 2 or 3 small bug infested balls of rice per day. The pain was constant, without any medical treatment of any kind. My body was covered with running sores, lice and fleas, and sleep was nearly impossible because of the bed bugs. I lost over 100 pounds and was failing rapidly, both physically and mentally.

I lived on the very fringe of existence - and it was becoming exceedingly difficult to maintain the desire to live. As time went on, more of my fellow POW comrades died or were killed.

It reached the point where I never thought I would survive and make it home. I prayed to God to help me live through another minute, then hour, then day. I'm not afraid to admit, I cried often in that cold dark cage.

Almost miraculously, our prisoner of war camp survived a massive fire raid by B-29s on nearby Tokyo that took place on March 10,1945. Much of Tokyo burned to the ground that night, with more than 100,000 people killed, more even than those killed at either Nagasaki or Hiroshima after an atomic bomb was dropped on these two cities.

The wooden stable - where I was held captive in a steel cage - was surrounded by a huge fire that night. Again, I don't know how I endured the heat or the smoke. After I survived the fire bombing, I was removed from my own cage and put on exhibit (naked) in a tiger cage at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, where Japanese civilians, mostly women, looked upon me in sad silence. Thankfully, I was eventually moved to the Omori POW facility.

Throughout the entire ordeal, I was under a decree of capital punishment, with the uncertain knowledge that, at any given moment, I could be executed and put to death.

Two weeks after the war ended, myself and my fellow POWs, those that were still alive, were liberated.

Great Day! Liberation from Tokyo POW camp on August 29, 1945, World War II. Hap Halloran (circled).

That day was August 29, 1945. I remember spending two weeks aboard the hospital ship, USS Benevolence, in Tokyo Bay - I was too physically weak and unfit to travel back to the USA. I ended up spending additional months in a government hospital for returning soldiers in West Virginia, before I eventually made it home in Cincinnati.

At first, I found it very difficult to "return to normal." I tried hard, but my progress was slow. Even now, I have not been one hundred percent successful in eradicating all of the bad memories, but it's so much better than it once was.

As time went on, I experienced severe nightmares with varying degrees of frequency. I've made progress, and they are less frequent now. The dreams tended to be of a constant nature: falling through space and trying to reach out to hold onto something. Or being surrounded by fire and smoke and high winds - the firestorm - or working to avoid being beaten by guards with their rifle butts.

Yet, as the years started to pass by, I saw and felt some positive things in my life - and I started to feel good about myself and my life - and even life in general.

After initially declaring to myself that I would never - ever - go back to Japan, a gradual transition in my thinking began to take place. Perhaps if I did go back and see with my own two eyes the Japanese people after the war (versus my totally negative remembrance of them during the war), well perhaps this would be a good thing for me.

Now, since my first return visit to Japan in 1984, I have been back to this wonderful country eight different times. These trips have been a great help in eradicating those bad memories. I now have many friends throughout Japan. A few years ago, I had 32 Japanese people touring the United States spend the day with me at my home in northern California.

My thoughts and my mind over the last 30 plus years have demonstrated gradual changes within my heart and soul. I can state without reservation that I have experienced positive things in my life that are a direct by-product of those terrible days as an American POW in Japan.

My feelings now are this - if you can go through adversities like I've described and survive, the possibility exists that one day you might actually make comparisons on events and problems in your present day life and actually appreciate how small some of the things we actually worry about really are. One can actually become more positive and appreciative of life because of earlier hardships, even the most awful of hardships.

I feel these positive changes and higher values can apply to individuals in their personal life, in their family life, and in the world of business and society.

As I look at myself today, I know I have a far greater appreciation of life. Yes, even the simplest of things that I formerly took for granted can take on a special meaning for me now.

I appreciate that I was very fortunate to survive this experience. And I have this feeling that I should do things for others as a form of appreciation for having been so lucky - or blessed - or maybe both.

I definitely have a much higher level of confidence than I've ever had before. I set higher goals and I have higher expectations of myself and I've achieved a reasonable degree of success in many of the things I've attempted to accomplish.

Most importantly, I no longer sweat or stress over the small stuff. I guess I've finally taken time to stop and smell the roses.

For instance, I've made significant progress in the matter of speaking before groups. Even when I was a man in my forties, I had a fear of public speaking. Hopefully my presentations, no matter how tough they were for me, have had a positive and motivating effect on my audience. Sure, we all have problems - but you don't have to give up. All of us can hang in there and solve our problems and appreciate the incredible gift of life.

I make it a point to speak to students - I've probably spoken to groups of young people over 200 times now. I tell them how - within each of us -there is a power and ability to solve and accomplish things we never before thought was possible.

I appreciate my life - and my freedom. And I love watching our Flag flowing in a gentle breeze.

I enjoy and appreciate sunrises and sunsets - and especially the stars. Stars that I use to navigate with during long nighttime missions in a B-29 over the Pacific. The stars are still - and will always be - my friends.

I guess I've come to the conclusion that it was those difficult days during WW II that taught me a lot of things about myself - things that have helped me over the many years of my life. Lessons that are still helping me today. And I will always continue to use what I've learned to help other people grow too. Especially young people, who sometimes need a little help growing.

Bill, thank you for introducing me to the concept of "Post Traumatic Growth." I didn't know about this powerful new concept before, but I'm a believer in it now.

[Have an opinion on this column? Sound off here.]

2003 Lt. Commander Bill Goss. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.



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