Survival Day – What Does Your Second Chance Look Like?

Fred Wendorf - US ArmyI spent last Sunday celebrating Survival Day with my stepfather Fred, our annual commemoration of March 3, 1945, when Fred was wounded during an Allied assault on German positions near Iola, Italy, in the mountains of Tuscany. Over the course of his long and interesting life, March 3rd has become what we call “Survival Day,” a day to remember and be thankful.

In the later battles of Riva Ridge, Fred led a platoon of the 10th Mountain Division in a daytime offensive against German troops. He was injured in the battle by a treeburst that lodged a piece of shrapnel in his right shoulder (this became a permanent injury that still prevents him from using his right hand fully). Fred lay on the battlefield for the remainder of the day, in some pain and thinking he had been forgotten, worried he would die before the end of the day. As he lay there throughout the cold day, Fred thought about his lifelong dream to be an archaeologist. He told himself that if he survived the day, and the war, he owed it to himself to make something of his life. He promised himself he would return to university to study to become one of the best archaeologists of his time. And Fred did exactly that.

It is not an archaeologist's party until someone brings out a skull! This is a replica of Midland Man, the oldest remains found in the new world, discovered in 1953 by an oilfield worker in Midland, TX.
It is not an archaeologist’s party until someone brings out a skull! This is a replica of Midland Man, the oldest remains found in the new world, discovered in 1953 by a pipe welder near Midland, TX.

Fred’s work as an archaeologist is chronicled in many places. It can be found in the many academic journals and books he authored about his studies and findings. It is available for future archaeologists to study in the collections of artifacts he has amassed in his work in Egypt, Sudan and the American Southwest. It continues through the expeditions he founded that still do field work today and the university departments and programs he was instrumental in building. It is carried on by former students and colleagues around the globe who practice and teach archaeology today. And most importantly, it is available for his children, grandchildren and their heirs to read in Desert Days, the autobiography he wrote in 2008.Survival Day is more than a family celebration of one life. It is the recognition that a life can touch so many others and will change the course of history.

If you had to choose, how would you make today your Survival Day? How would you choose to face life challenges, dreams and responsibilities differently tomorrow? If you were fighting for your life, what kind of life would you want it to be?

  • Would you choose to live an authentic life and challenge yourself to “show up and let yourself be seen” every day?
  • Would you open yourself up to vulnerability by engaging with others in a wholehearted way, even if it means taking emotional risks?
  • Would you practice gratitude, not just for the things that are going well in your life, but also for the hard-knock lessons that enable you to build resiliency and fortitude?
  • Would you face each day with a “Sieze the Day” mentality, eager to try something new that you haven’t tried before?
  • Would you pursue a path of self-development, focusing on continuous improvement – not just to “fix” the areas in which you want to improve but also to build upon your strengths?
  • Would you care for your body and mind by fostering a culture of health that emphasizes activity, healthy foods and hydration?
  • Would you embrace mindfulness and being present in your life experiences?

Fred knew 68 years ago exactly the kind of life he wanted to live if he saw the sun come up on March 4th, 1945.

Fred is 88 years old now, a member of that greatest generation that fought tyranny, served their country, and came home to build incredibly successful institutions. The stories he used to share about the war and his life as an archaeologist have slowed and almost stopped, and Alzheimer’s is taking control of his mind more quickly than any of us can accept. I know that one day in the future Fred won’t be with us for Survival Day, but his survival spirit will live on in all of us.

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.