A Very Lucky Argument To Lose

Guy Leith Has Cheated Death Several Times

Pick people at random, then tell their stories: That's what Steve Hartman does with Everbody Has A Story. Twelve hours after picking Guy Leith out of the phone book earlier this summer, Hartman was already searching for his story. Two days ago, Guy couldn't have made the back page of his local circular. Now, he was about to tell his story, in his own words, to all of America.

Hartman spent a few hours talking with Guy, a 57-year-old retired park ranger who lives in Washington, Iowa. As often happens, Guy tells him that he doesn't have one. "I thought we're pretty average and I wouldn't have anything exciting to put on TV," says Guy, a soft-spoken man with a passion for fishing.

"I just love to fish. I fish in the spring, I fish in the fall, I fish in the winter. I like to fish all the time if I can," Guy says. Hartman asks whether he would rather give up fishing or his wife. Before Guy can answer, his wife Debbie chimes in: "That's not fair!"

The two met at the dentist's office. "She was the one who cleaned my teeth," Guy says. He asked her out during an appointment, with his mouth full of dental instruments. Twelve years later, they now live happily with two children and two pets, his tenacious bird-hunting dog and her cocky cockatiel parrot.

The first lead came over coffee, when Guy's stepdaughter Lindsey said she remembered seeing some old slides in the basement. Guy had been to war. "He doesn't talk about it much," saysDebbie.

Sometimes the best stories are the ones no one talks about. Until, of course, some stranger comes to town and, starts asking, "What is this man's story?"

Track Hartman's travels via the Everybody Has A Story archive.
But the story of this 57-year-old retired park ranger is not about any one particular aspect of his life here today. It's about the simple fact that he is alive at all. Guy says he shouldn't really be here.

"Sometimes I feel I have a little cat blood," he says, referring to the number of lives he's already used up. He says he knows he lost at least one off the coast of Alaska, when the crab boat he was working on almost sank. "I thought I was going to die," he says. He also crashed his motorcycle once at 80 miles an hour. He wasn't wearing a helmet, but didn't even break a bone.

But his closest close call is the one that makes him wonder most. In 1966, Guy, then 22, had been in Vietnam barely half a year. His battalion was on a rescue mission right on te enemy border. Night was falling, and Guy and a friend were settling into a foxhole they had dug earlier that day. Two sergeants came along, and took the foxhole for themselves.

"So we argued a little bit, not much, walked over another 10 yards and started digging another foxhole," Guy remembers. It would prove to be the most important argument he ever lost.

"Then we started getting hit with 60-millimeter mortars and I think it was the foutth or fifth one that lit right in that foxhole that we had dug originally," Guy remembers. "And the two of them that were there didn't make it: the staff sergeant and the first sergeant."

At the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., 58,000 stories are etched in stone. And although you cannot see it, this one is there, too. Somewhere between two lines of type, the name of Guy Leith is not there.

"You wonder why you made it and they didn't," says Guy. "I never come up with a real reason." For the longest time, Guy thought maybe he was here to rescue someone from a burning building or perform some heroic deed. But now he says you can't torture yourself waiting for answers like that to strike. He says all you can do is enjoy the quiet moments until they do. The meaning of life, he says, lies not in the catching, but rather in the fishing.

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