Lt. Col. (Ret) Richard Korthals, a beloved Focus volunteer for over a decade and a decorated veteran of World War II, passed away this past Sunday morning. He was just one month shy of his 89th birthday.
From the fields of his family’s La Crosse, Wisconsin, farm, as a young boy Dick would look with wonder to the skies, dreaming of one day becoming a pilot. His dream came true. He went on to serve our nation in the Army Air Corps of Engineers, ultimately tasked with flying a C-47 transport plane in the Philippines between 1943 and 1945. It was there on a desolate outpost where he met and fell in love with his wife, Lynn, a combat nurse. They were married for 63 idyllic years before she died in 2007.
A humble, reserved and dignified man, Dick was not quick to discuss his years in the Pacific, but was always happy to talk about them when asked. As the pilot of a “Gooney Bird,” as his aircraft was nicknamed, his wartime service was fraught with peril and adventure. He was regularly tasked with dropping crates of dynamite as a diversionary tactic over enemy territories. On one particular mission, a crate of explosives, dropped with a parachute attached, became tangled on the tail of his plane. Disaster looming, he proceeded to violently twist and turn his craft in an attempt to dislodge the dynamite. It finally broke free, exploding only feet from the plane.
Dick saw all of life as a lesson, and considered few things a matter of mere coincidence. In addition to being a pilot and engineer, he was also a gifted writer, and often attempted to help explain God’s sovereignty through story. In 2001 he published a book, My Savior at My Side, a gentle and inspirational read filled with poignant and instructive tales. No matter the trouble or time, he wrote, ”Jesus is always with you. He is at your side.”
Such was the theme and thread of his life, whether teaching, speaking or praying with patients just prior to surgery, which he did until days before his own death.
One last story:
Flying over Corregidor Island in the middle of the war, Dick encountered heavy enemy fire. “I had never felt such fear and anxiety in all my life,” he remembered. “In the flash and fire, I began to shake nearly uncontrollably as I attempted to navigate the yoke. I became drenched in sweat. In an instant, my entire life flashed before my eyes.” But then, just as quickly, Dick remembered his Christian faith and Christ’s words in Matthew’s Gospel:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
“In an instant,” Dick recalled, “I was filled with a sense of peace and tranquility. My anxiety vanished. My shaking and sweating ceased. By handing over the yoke to Jesus, I was able to guide the plane through the stormy and bullet-ridden skies and onto safety.”
Our beloved friend is now home, beside His Savior and marveling at God’s majesty. We will miss him here at Focus and send our condolences to his family, which includes four children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. His obituary can be viewed here, which concluded with this touching line from his family:
We can almost hear the jubilant cry that went up Sunday morning when he arrived, not at his usual pew seat at Holy Cross, but at his Heavenly home, and almost hear God whispering in his ear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”