Elwin Pulisipher was a warrior by profession and by character. He was a fighter defending his family, religion, country, moral principles and life to the end. He never waived a white flag of surrender. His weapons ranged from battle firearms to a wink and a wisp of a smile.

The firearms he used in two tours of duty in Viet Nam. The wink and smile he used to counter an enemy wilier than a sniper.

Elwin was no mad dog Rambo. He was called to lead LDS servicemen groups wherever his military assignments took him. He provided for and presided over his family in love and wisdom, and whenever possible he turned his sword into a plowshare of peace. After he retired from the military he earned a doctor’s degree and worked with students as an administrator at Brigham Young University.

He could give better than he got on the battle field, but his greatest challenge was against an enemy for which there was, and still is no attack weapon and no defense. It slowly dragged him down from hiking boots and running shoes to a cane, then crutches, a wheelchair, and finally an iron lung. He developed ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; better known as Lou Gherig’s disease after the famous New York Yankees first basemen, “the pride of the Yankees” who died from it. The disease slowly dismantles the signal system to the voluntary muscles.

In Elwin’s case it left him with two muscles that partially functioned. He could wink one eye and lift slightly one corner of his mouth.

The first time I went to sing to him, I leveled with him, “Elwin, I have come to sing to you because I know you’re not going to walk out in the middle of my show.” He smiled his subdued half smile. We both knew Elwin was never going anyplace outside the iron lung that was breathing for him.

Thereafter Friday afternoon usually found me picking and singing, and him listening as the sun set behind the western mountains and twilight closed in on his room. Then I would sing our closing theme song, “Blue Shadows on the Trail”, pat his arm even though I knew he couldn’t feel it, and look forward to next week. I figured a tough guy like Elwin growing up in a little town in Nevada surely must have some cowboy in him. Rhea, his wife confirmed my assumption.

Elwin had other friends giving their best to help him. His home teacher Laval Pitts used his craftsmanship and ingenuity to help Elwin write letters with his winking muscle. Laval built a paddle affair with a hole in the middle, and twenty six notches around the edge of the hole. Lavall painted a letter next to each of the notches. He would take a pencil and click it from notch to notch. When he came to the letter Elwin wanted to use, Elwin would wink his eye. Laval would write the letter on a piece of paper. Thus tediously he helped Elwin communicate with the world outside his iron lung.

Computer technology gave Laval and the family members a break. Apple developed a program that would continuously circle the letters past the curser on the screen. A switch strapped to Elwin’s forehead would activate by winking his eye. The letter or space would be added to the document on the screen. The writing was still slow and tedious, but he could do it by himself. This was a giant leap for him.

For seven years and 25,000 meals of a slurry of fortified Cream of Wheat poured down his throat, Elwin lay in his iron lung. The warrior was down but not out. With his eyebrow writing system he counseled his wife and instructed his children through their teen-age years. He faithfully fulfilled his Church calling which was to write a weekly letter of encouragement to the missionaries serving from their ward. He would send me a copy. The letters always ended with, “Have a good day.” From this hero victorious over so many battles, I took that as an order that I have tried since to fulfill.

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