fred bear

Resolved to Remember

Immediately following the deaths of the Challenger astronauts I wrote a resolution for the American Archery Council. We were meeting later that week in Nevada. This resolution passed unanimously and was sent to El’s widow and children, and was also printed along with my article in Archery World. Here’s what it said:

WHEREAS, astronaut Ellison Onizuka, of the space shuttle Challenger 51-L crew, demonstrated his interest in archery and bowhunting often throughout the years, and,

WHEREAS, he and his fellow crew members aboard the space shuttle Discovery on Flight 51-C, Jan. 24-27, 1985 carried into orbit with them a bowhunting broadhead in recognition of America’s archers and bowhunters, and,

WHEREAS, this broadhead was later presented to The Fred Bear Museum for permanent display in Gainesville, Florida, and,

WHEREAS, El Onizuka enjoyed shooting a bow and arrow around the Kennedy Space Center,

Be it hereby resolved by the American Archery Council at its annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 1, 1986 that the sport of archery, through all of its national organizations, representing America’s more than 2 million archers and bowhunters, assembled here in body, recognize and thank the late astronaut Ellison Onizuka for his support of our sports of archery and bowhunting.

Dr. James J. Shubert, president
Dr. Dave Samuel, vice president
Christine McCartney, secretary

Two years later, I had a very eerie thing happen that I will believe until the day I die involved El Onizuka. Here’s how I wrote it up and reported it to his sisters, brother, widow and children not too long ago. I leave it to you to either believe it or not. But this really happened. And I have kept quiet about it, other than telling a few close friends, for the past 15 years, for fear of being ridiculed.

“The Oriental Bow”

Japan is composed of four large islands, 600 smaller ones, and 8,000 small islets. Between 3000-1800 B.C., during the Neolithic Period, a nomadic Caucasian race of people known as the Ainu arrived in these islands.

Later an Oriental race of people came from either the Asiatic mainland or the islands of the south and also settled. They were the predecessors of today’s inhabitants. Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu Tenno, then came across from the island of Kyushu to the main island of Yamato in 660 B.C. These people eventually drove the Ainu from most of the islands over to Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the north, primarily because they had superior archery equipment. Just remnants of the Ainu remain, but those who do still use the bow and arrow as an integral part of their ancient bear-cult ceremonies.

In 538 A.D. Buddhism was brought to Japan from India by way of China and Korea. Reincarnation is embraced by Buddhists. Here is an excerpt from the Dhammapada and the Samannaphala Sutta: “Buddha speaks: With his heart thus serene, made pure, translucent, cultured, devoid of evil, supple, ready to act, firm and imperturbable, he directs and bends down his mind to the knowledge of the memory of his previous temporary states. He recalls to mind … one birth, or two or three … or 1,000 or 100,000 births, through many an aeon of dissolution, many an aeon of both dissolution and evolution.”

The history of archery in Japan thus goes back many thousands of years. From their ancient Ainu people, through their Samurai bowmen, up to the present time. This unique group of island-dwelling people have long practiced the bow and arrow sports. Archery also has an integral place in the practice of Zen Buddhism. From ancient times shooting the ceremonial whistling-arrows was believed “to disperse evil, stop calamity, bring peace and render happiness.”

And not only is the bow and arrow ingrained into the history and culture of this island society, but even the shape of the bow in Japanese history is unique from all others used in the world.

The traditional Japanese bow is thicker at its bottom end, or limb, as it is known in archery circles, than at the top limb. And the top limb, being more slender is also longer. Matter of fact, the grip area in a Japanese bow is two-thirds of the way down the length of the bow, rather than half the distance as is found in all other cultures. One explanation is that most of their earlier bows were made of saplings and when cut were thicker at their base than at their top.

Back in the late 1980s I was writing a book about reincarnation, a topic that has always fascinated me. The book has been completed for many years now, but I have never sent it to a publisher. I wrote it more to put my own beliefs down on paper than for any reasons of a commercial nature. My working title for the book was “Next of Kin.” The book is a work of fiction and contains a cast of characters who had all lived before as incarnations of the same basic soul. One of my characters, Jymy, is an astronaut from the future who had died at a base on the moon.

I had been making notes about Jymy for several weeks in preparation for writing his chapter. As is my custom, the working area next to my word processor was stacked high with piles of material within easy reach. The five or six pages of notes about Jymy were on top of one of these stacks. On the Saturday morning of Jan. 9, 1988, I was about to go down to my home office and begin work on the Jymy chapter.

On the wall in front of me in my home office where I wrote was a framed copy of the article I had written at the request of Archery World magazine regarding our friends who were lost in the Challenger explosion. And sitting on top of my word processor was a small figure of a sitting gorilla that I found particularly funny and always kept there while writing. Another of the characters in my reincarnation book was a woman from the early days of mankind who lived in Africa 3 million years ago and who was more apelike than human in appearance.

No one was in my home office when the next thing occurred. I was at the other end of the house, my visiting mother was in the bathtub and my wife was occupied elsewhere. Suddenly I heard a crash. Thinking my mother had fallen in the tub I rushed to that end of the house. It had not been her. She was fine.

Next I went into my office. Somehow the framed article about the Challenger crew had fallen off the wall, hit the ape on top of my word processor on its journey downward as well as the stack of notes about Jymy I had been working on, and continued on down to the floor. The framed article was now sitting directly on top of my Jymy notes on the floor. The ape figurine lay nearby.

I called to my wife to come see the strange thing that had happened. As she entered the room and I told her about it she quietly said, “Look at your chair.”

The framed Challenger article had also hit the plastic cover of the folding chair that I used while working at my word processor. And the edge of the frame had hit the plastic covering and cut a perfect oriental bow design in the plastic. Complete with the grip being two-thirds of the way down the handle.

I immediately knew that my Buddhist friend Ellison Onizuka had reached out to me to let me know that I should continue work on my book. As a result, my dedication in the front of this unpublished book reads: “For the friend who visited me after he was gone, to let me know that he was still here.”

Little more than three months later, Fred died. Ellison also considered him a friend and looked up to Mr. Bear.

While astronaut Joe Engle was at our house for Fred’s funeral, I worked up the courage to show him the oriental bow chair that El had left at our house. I didn’t know if he would poo-poo it or laugh. He did not. He advised me to take pictures of it, protect the chair and put the photos in our safe deposit box. That I have done, and the chair, itself, now sits in a closet about 10 feet from where I’m writing this with a protective cover over it.

Ancients, Astronauts and Archery

That’s the end of the story that I sent to El’s family, but before I leave this topic, you might be interested in some research I stumbled across in the writing of my book, “The Genesis Rocks”, about our lunar landings and the world events that preceded each of those historic flights. This will be of particular interest to those of you who are archers or bowhunters.

I wrote to my friend at the NASA History Office in Washington, D.C., Lee Saegesser, who had helped me over the years gather information for my various space-related books. He put me onto some archaeological research that had been done at Cape Canaveral when the space program was just beginning. It seems that Tuequesta Indians had inhabited the area 4,000 years ago. And in that area the researchers had sifted through one particular location in which I was interested.

Known to the University of Florida archaeologists as BR 79, this ancient Orange Period midden site offered up pottery fragments, animal and fish bones and two whole and one partial chert atlatl points when the Apollo 11 launch pad was built, the only projectile points found in more than 50 Native American sites on Cape Canaveral. At this precise location, on a small hill rising over the sea, we had built our own projectile site, Apollo Launch Complex 39A … our launch pad. All Apollo flights except Apollo 10 would leave from this concrete and steel “cathedral to the eternal night.”

It occurred to me that a photo of the chert atlatl points might be an interesting thing to include in my book. It took several letters to Washington, D.C. trying to track these items down. Much to my surprise, they were hidden in a drawer at the State of Florida Museum at the University of Florida, less than three miles from where I lived at the time! I’m including a photo of me holding the whole atlatl point in this chapter since this hunting device was the implement that preceded our bows and arrows.

One final comment about Fred’s relationship to the space program is a rather oblique thing that happened. Tom Pucci had been at Bear Paw Landing in Canada hunting when our Bear Archery gang was there in 1974. And Fred was one of Tom’s heroes, as he was to so very many people. In the early ’80’s Tom commissioned a bust be done of Fred to help immortalize his memory. The sculptor selected was Ed Dwight of Denver, Colorado.

Dwight had been an aeronautical engineer, pilot and Air Force captain when President Kennedy asked him to train to be an astronaut in 1962. He was the first African-American selected for the U.S. space program. The Monday after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Dwight was transferred to Germany. He resigned from the space program and the Air Force in 1966 and never flew a space mission. But he did later become a very accomplished sculptor.

In 1976 when Fred was inducted into the Hunting Hall of Fame he was sponsored by Congressman John Dingle of Michigan who asked Virginia Kraft, associate editor of Sports Illustrated magazine to present Fred on the occasion. Here is what she said:

“In this age when man set out to conquer space, and did, when he turned from Earth’s green fields to heaven’s vastness for his quarry, one man, as unique an adventurer in his own right as those whose sights have been on the stars, turned back instead to a period of man’s history that was perhaps his most basic. Fred Bear, who learned to hunt with a gun, put it away more than 50 years ago and took up instead one of the oldest weapons known to man, the bow and arrow.”

Next Chapter 10, Our First Compound Bow