Some people are lucky. Some aren't.
Some people take hair-raising risks for a thrill and survive unscathed. Some are cautious and prudent all their lives and die from a fluke accident, chance misstep or the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I see the unlucky ones - three in a September week.
John Mainwaring, 56, an employee of the Southern Ute Tribe, was driving to work when someone attempting to pass clipped an oncoming truck. Seeing an accident unfolding in front of him, Mr. Mainwaring pulled off on the shoulder, as any prudent person would.
The truck driver lost control, veered across traffic lanes and slammed into Mr. Mainwaring's vehicle.
Joshua Gulvas, 21, a fit and active college student from Columbus, Ohio, was vacationing in Durango with his father, and the two went hiking above Lemon Reservoir. Joshua and his father separated. Dad came back; Joshua did not. After a three-day search, his body was found at the bottom of a 200-foot cliff in Virginia Gulch.
Joshua had a tent, sleeping bag, food, extra clothes, fishing pole, matches, a compass and a head lamp. He had pitched his tent, opened a can of tuna and gathered tinder for a fire. He should have been OK, but when he left his camp for higher, open ground above the cliff, something happened and he fell. Waving to a search plane? Trying to get his bearings? Losing his footing in a storm? We'll never know.
Michael Parnell, 38, gifted guitarist of the band Ralph Dinosaur, activated his emergency flashers and stopped on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 160 to help a dead or injured cat. Another driver, focused on the parked vehicle's flashing lights, failed to see Mr. Parnell as he crouched in the road.
Unlike these unfortunates, my good friend Walter "Bud" Epling of Olathe is one of the lucky ones.
A few weeks ago, Bud called to tell me the local sawmill was giving away logs that didn't make the grade - firewood free for the taking. If I would drive up with a trailer, he'd help me load free wood.
We were in luck the Saturday I went. A large loader dumped load after load of 5- to 8-foot stripped pine logs, and only one other scavenger was there to claim them.
With little effort, Bud tossed logs I could barely lift into the trailer. We worked for several hours, filling two pickups and two trailers. Bud guessed we'd loaded at least 3,000 pounds.
He's been hauling, cutting and splitting free wood several times a week every week for two months. He says he has enough for this winter and next winter, too.
It was one of several jobs he wanted to finish before leaving for his military reunion in Branson, Mo., at the end of September.
Bud is one of the last survivors of C Battery of the 99th Field Artillery Battalion that provided support to the Seventh and Eighth Regiments of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Pacific Theater in the Second World War.
As a forward observer, it was his job to sneak into enemy-held territory, identify enemy positions and radio their coordinates to the firing batteries.
"I spent a lot of time laying in the weeds watching the Japanese walk by," he said.
Bud fought in the Admiralty Islands and the Philippine invasions at Leyte, Luzon and Samar.
"We'd often set up our radio under heavy mortar and sniper fire. The bullets flew so thick you knew if you stuck your finger up, it woulda been shot off," he said.
Bud's courage under fire repeatedly enabled American artillery to neutralize enemy positions, and his heroism earned him a Bronze Star.
Three times, enemy sniper bullets missed him by fractions of an inch. Once on Luzon, a Japanese soldier sneaked up behind him, intent on stabbing him in the back. A fellow forward observer, Jose "Joe" Mendez, saw what was about to happen and fired three rounds from 15 feet away.
"He missed my head by just a few inches," Bud said. "Joe was a good soldier and very fast. He placed those rounds where they did the most good."
Jose Mendez was 88 when he died Oct. 7, 2008.
"Joe, you will be in my memory until the day I die," Bud wrote, reporting his friend's death in SABER, a bimonthly newspaper "Published By and For the Veterans of the Famous 1st Cavalry Division," in early 2009.
Bud was with the 1st Cavalry's armored "Flying Column" that advanced 100 miles in 66 hours without pause to take the Japanese by surprise and free 3,700 Allied internees who had been held for three years at the Santo Tomas prison in Manila.
"Those people had tried to plant little gardens to have something to eat," Bud said of the prisoners. "But they were just so gaunt."
After the liberation of Santo Tomas, Bud and other forward observers of C Battery pursued the Japanese through the mountains around Manila.
"We annihilated a lot of Japanese in that campaign," Bud said. He was photographed with four other forward observers when they returned to camp after 19 days in the jungle.
In the campaign to retake the Philippines, almost 14,000 American soldiers died. Nearly 50,000 were wounded.
In spite of many close encounters, Bud was injured only once. Pinned down by fierce enemy shelling and desperate to return fire, he tore open a wooden crate of 75 mm howitzer shells with his bare hands and punctured his hand on a nail. He didn't put in for a Purple Heart.
"I wouldn't want one for a thing like that," he said. Later, he was mad at himself: "I found out it would have been worth five discharge points."
Bud served three years without a furlough.
"It seemed like everybody got one but me," he said.
He was promoted from buck private to first sergeant. Three times, he refused a field commission.
"All the guys that took commissions got sent to Korea," he said, "and a lot of them got killed."
Bud was the only survivor of C Battery able to attend the Branson reunion. One other veteran of the 1st Cavalry, Morris Tweeten, 83, of Spring Grove, Minn. - a replacement member who joined B Battery late in the conflict - was there.
The other soldiers were mostly represented by their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and on the first day of the reunion, they celebrated Bud's birthday.
Not one to procrastinate, Bud already is making plans for the 2010 C Battery reunion, which he intends to host in Durango. On the agenda is a tour of Mesa Verde, a train ride to Silverton and a wiener roast at a remote mountain cabin. Perhaps for some of the more daring, a four-wheeling adventure on the Alpine Loop.
Bud Epling is 91 years old.
Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, has served as
La Plata County coroner since January 2003.