I was flying into Caledonia one night, that was our headquarters. Admiral Halsey had his fleet headquarters there, and I was working there. And we had to make three passes at the airfield. The weather was really quite bad. Now when you came out, you made a big turn to the left to get over the mountain and get out to sea, turn 360 degrees, and come back. It’s a very normal procedure, but you sure pour it on the moment you decide you give it everything, and you hope you can make that turn because you need both elevation and speed. When we did that the third time, I said wait a minute. This isn’t going to work. This is tough. We may have had it. Wonderful pilot. Did it. Came back. Came into a perfect landing. It was about sunset.
That night, I could not sleep, and I went out on that airstrip on Tontouta. I’ll never forget it, about eighteen miles north of where our headquarters was, Noumea. And I walked along the airstrip, and that’s when the war hit me, and that’s when the phenomenon I spoke of before hit me. I said, “When this is over, I’m not going to be the same guy. I am going to live as if I were a great man.” I never said I was going to be a great man because I had no idea what my capacities were. I had no great confidence; nothing in my background gave me a reason to think so. But I was not forestalled from acting as if I were. That is, deal with big subjects.
Associate with people who are brighter than you are. Grapple with the problems of your time. And it was as clear to me as if a voice were telling me to do this: “This is the choosing-up point, kiddo, from here on.” I had no idea that life was as short as it is. That concept comes very late in any human life, I think. I thought life was immeasurable, extensive to the horizon and beyond. But I did know that my capacities were not unlimited. I had only so much to spend, and let’s do it in a big way. And I think that was all the difference.