The Critical Mass

My good friend Ernie Coleman has died

My good friend Ernie Coleman, the hero of my book Chasing the Wind: The Humble, Epic Century of a Sailor, passed away this morning.

It wasn’t quite a century, but he did make it to 96. At that age, death isn’t quite unexpected, especially since he had a major heart attack in November, with only the fast work of the EMTs bringing him back. He looked good for a while, but then it all began to catch up to him. The last few times I saw him, Ernie was hooked up to an oxygen tank, which he towed around with him, even when we did a book signing together at Herrema’s Super Market. He knew his time was running out. He told me so, told me that he was OK with it, even while complaining that he wasn’t allowed to drive anymore.  But he didn’t want to die. He was too much of a fighter. He could have died that night on the USS Vincennes, at the the Battle of Savo Island in the South Pacific, during World War II. But he fought for his life, in a tragedy where 300 of his fellow crewmen, and more than 1,000 sailors on three other ships, died that night. The guy was a genuine hero, but no one knew about it. Not his family, not his friends.

He was a hero in plenty of other ways. As a championship sailor on Lake Ontario, as a father to one adopted daughter and seven stepkids. To the friends who knew him as a clever, self-made man who knew a lot about carpentry, engineering, history and dancing. Pretty much everything you need to be a useful, interesting, fun human being. You can read the post here from Nov. 20 to get a little more of a feel for what he was like. There’s a few other posts about him as well. The short story, because it really hurts to write this now, is he was quite a guy.

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