God gave Bob Smith a mulligan.
When he joined the Navy after high school graduation in 1943, he was sent to the Pacific to fight against the Japanese. And in the battle at Okinawa, Smith was scheduled to be on a ship hit by a kamikaze plane.
“But somebody wanted to trade ships with me,” Smith said. “So we were both in the battle, and that ship that I was supposed to be on was severely damaged, and mine wasn’t at all. No damage on my ship at all.”
The life he lived after given a second chance is chronicled in his memoir, “God Gave Me A Mulligan: A Journalist’s Life in War and Peace,” which Smith, now 87, self-published in August. To reference a mulligan — a golfing term for a free shot or do over — seemed like the perfect title.
The chapters begin with his life growing up in West York (“population about 4,000 [and] so safe I biked everywhere, rarely needing a lift”) and follow his graduation in 1943 and draft notice for the Navy.
“I was really happy to do that,” Smith said of his service. “In those days, if you were rated as 4F (Not Qualified for Military Service due to medical reasons), it was really like a terrible failure for a boy. I had glasses and I was afraid I might be flunked just because of that.”
His military experience earned him a ride to college, where he first dived into journalism. But reporting had been on his mind since he was living in West York.
“I was a paperboy (growing up); I came into York every morning and got a whole bunch of papers and distributed them to households,” Smith said. “They were all New York and Philly based. They had the best sportswriters in the world, and that’s what I wanted to be.”
His path changed in college, though, and he made the move into political writing. Over the years in Washington, D.C., he covered seven presidents — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. But he never thought to write down his story until his wife suggested it.
“She said, you know, you write about all these other celebrities, why don’t you write about yourself,” Smith said. “I said, ‘I’m not a celebrity.'”
After writing a life review at a Quaker conference he attended, he reconsidered his wife’s advice. He had nine other books under his belt — mostly biographies of political figures — but “God Gave Me A Mulligan” is his first memoir.
Although he suffered a stroke in May 2011, Smith persevered, working with a speech therapist and a proofreader to get back both his voice and his momentum in writing.
“I’m glad I was able to finish the book,” he said. “I just wanted to say what I had to say. My main thing is my children like it, and that’s pretty good.”
“God Gave Me A Mulligan” is available at amazon.com.