Near-death experience gave Ottawa veteran his life’s purpose

OTTAWA—The date is burned into Frank Cauley’s memory.

It was March 10, 1944. Cauley was serving in the Air Force as a master warrant officer when his plane crashed in an attempt to take out a German U-boat.

Cauley and his crew had flown out to investigate after the boat shot down another Allied plane. They wanted to see if they could take out the threat. They managed to sink the ship, but not before it took their plane down, ripping it in half.

Cauley jumped out of the bottom of the plane as it was breaking apart. He was able to land in a dinghy the plane had on board.

Cauley was the only survivor of his crew.

He was stranded on the dinghy for three days.

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Cauley said he did not think he would survive. He had spent his summers as a child working on a farm, and then had joined the Air Force. As a result, he never learned to swim.

“The fact that I couldn’t swim was on my mind,” said Cauley.

Still, Cauley did not give up, lighting a signal flare each day in hopes a ship would spot him and pick him up.

“You learn how to pray, I’ll tell you,” said Cauley.

It was not until Cauley had almost run out of both signal flares and food that he was rescued. He only had a day’s worth of each left when a ship picked him up.

After that it was right back to pilot training, and Cauley served until the end of the war in 1945.

Cauley’s prayers gave his postwar life a new purpose.

“I promised God that I would do whatever I could to help him out and help my fellow man,” said Cauley.

He has kept that promise for the last 50 years, serving on various volunteer organization boards, including the Kiwanis Club and the school district council.

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But no job was too small.

“I never turned anyone away, where I thought I could help,” said Cauley.

That policy has paid off. Cauley met his wife Barbara at a horse show where he had been asked to volunteer – a task he never would have done if he hadn’t made his promise.

“I was afraid of horses,” said Cauley, laughing.

Cauley said his favourite volunteer experience was working with the Salvation Army.

“They were so good to me overseas,” said Cauley, adding that it meant a lot to him to give back.

At 93 years old, Cauley hasn’t stopped yet. He lives at the Perley Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, an assisted living facility that prioritizes veterans. Cauley also volunteers there, talking to other veterans about their shared experiences and helping out with the health centre’s foundation. He also shares his story with high school history classes in Ottawa.

Cauley says has no regrets about his prayer for survival or where it led.

“It’s done me well,” said Cauley, with a smile.

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