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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Gary's GodNod

by Mike Masterson | February 20, 2021 at 8:48 a.m.

Based on feedback, many of you appreciate the dozens of columns on the mysteries of GodNods I've been sharing for years.

I've always believed we too seldom hear in this politically-obsessed society about remarkable events best explained by divine intervention or involvement.

Among the many such stories, the account of Gary Lay's unlikely, even miraculous, survival of the August 1965 fire inside Titan II nuclear missile silo number 373-4 near Searcy, is among the most remarkable.

Only 17, Lay was one of only two of 55 men in the ICBM silo that afternoon to emerge alive. Fifty-six years later he still attributes that miraculous outcome to God nodding in his direction during what was his first day at work within that eight-story subterranean silo.

Lay had been able to land a job as a laborer cleaning up after workmen in a few of the state's 18 missile silos.

"It was a great summer job, good money for a high schooler," he said. "It was always 72 degrees in the silo, which had eight working levels that contained a control center and one Titan Two missile. At that time the security level for access into the silo was extremely high with closed-circuit TV and the works." Access was granted from the control center on level 2, 80 feet underground.

After graduating from high school in early summer, Lay's plan was to try to play football at the University of Arkansas. His father secured him a job shoveling rock behind a jackhammer. "The idea was to get in the best shape of my life."

A couple of weeks before leaving for school, he was cleared for a part-time cleanup job and reported to the silo at Clay, near Searcy on Aug. 9, 1965.

"We went into the hole [terminology for the underground silo] at 8 a.m. My duty was to work on level 8 at the bottom, 180 feet below ground.

"Access to the silo was through an entrance similar to a storm-cellar door at ground level. Then it was down the metal stairways to level 2, through a megaton concrete door which led to a small area where you could either go left through another access door entering the control center or go right to enter a 175-foot-long cableway, leading to the missile and an elevator.

"You could also go around the missile's backside where an escape metal ladder dropped to level 8. In other words, there were only two ways from levels 2 through 8--the elevator or the escape ladder.

"I worked cleaning up on level 8 all morning. At lunch I left my tools, since that's where I'd remain that afternoon."

After lunch, Lay and others approached the elevator for the trip to the bottom. "I told my crew to go on down since I'd gotten into a conversation with another crew working near the 8-story escape ladder.

"At 1:10 I was still talking to those five workers when a huge blaze shot upward that made the swishing sound of a gas stove being lit," he continued.

The lights went out and Lay, who was beside the ladder, instantly climbed down to get away from the fire. His five fellow workers followed as they descended into a hellish black environment. It was their final day on Earth.

"Men were screaming from every level as the silo filled with choking smoke. At this time I know God put his hand on me and said he still had other things for me to do. So I reversed and started back up the ladder as men fell on top of and around me. I was able to work my way through them because of my physical condition. In total darkness and thick smoke, I climbed back to level 2 before collapsing in the cableway from smoke inhalation.

"All the gauges in the control center were going nuts, " he said. "The crew rushed out of the control center where they picked me up and took me to the decontamination shower.

From there, Lay was admitted to the hospital in Searcy.

"Sadly, only one other man survived. He was a painter working above the cableway who saw the smoke and escaped. So on the morning of Aug. 9, 1965, 55 guys left for work, and 53 didn't come back.

"Every fatality was from smoke inhalation," Lay, now 74, said. "Experts estimated the survival time from the time of the fire was 45 seconds to a minute.

"Two weeks later I left the hospital, a little lighter, but thankfully never undergoing a skin graft from the third-degree burns."

He started at the university as scheduled as a result of what he calls God's miracle. "Summer working had put me in the type of physical shape to climb that ladder and achieve a goal that seemed impossible. God also gave me the personality that kept me talking with those five guys for an extra minute, rather than getting on the elevator to the bottom. Then he guided me in darkness and smoke where I could be rescued by an equally miraculous physical recovery.

"There is something I am supposed to do in life. I just hope I haven't done it yet."

I'm willing to bet Lay's interactions with others over the decades made differences in lives he will never realize or understand.

Election reforms

Regardless of your political leanings, every American must have faith in the results of their elections. Damaged trust erodes the foundations of our constitutional republic, while generating perhaps irreparable disillusionment with this vital process.

With that in mind, I offer these suggestions to the individual state governments that control their election process.

Each state should update voter registration rolls by thoroughly validating changes of address and deaths.

Every state's voting system should conduct forensic audits and drop voting machines if there are any owned and/or controlled by foreign entities, intentionally generated ballot errors, or access to the Internet that could possibly lead to outside computerized interference with the results.

Election laws should be audited to make certain they are fully compatible with state and national constitutions.

If nothing else, ensure the election laws require voter ID and signature verification at the polls, prohibit no-excuse absentee voting, restrict mail-in voting to any and all requested and signature-verified absentee ballots, prohibit the suspect practice of ballot harvesting, stay firm with election day deadlines for receiving ballots, and ensure all political parties have access to the tabulations to validate and guarantee the vote count is transparent and accurate.

And finally, reform election laws, rules and policies to prohibit any constitutionally questionable directives.

As I mentioned, these are common-sense reforms everyone should insist upon if we are to retain trust in the integrity of our future elections.

Nothing for granted

What a week. If nothing else, the subfreezing conditions and resulting power failures across Arkansas and the nation (especially poor, oil-rich Texas), should have reminded each of us never to take anything in this life for granted.

Even those things we never think twice about (like vital electricity when we want it) can vanish in an instant. We think this weather is damaging and destructive to our electric power supply. But I shudder to think where we would be if those who hate us should ignite a single large electromagnetic pulse bomb above the center of our nation.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly how you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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