From Tragedy, Glimmers of Candor and Grace

Two rare and welcome occurrences visited San Diego in the aftermath of tragedy. One came via the military, an entity not given frequently to mea culpa. The other involved a more spiritual reaction -- a pure show of humanity in the face of ultimate sorrow and loss.

On Dec. 8, 2008, young Marine Corps pilot Dan Neubauer’s FA/18 fighter plane suffered an engine shutdown over the Pacific Ocean. He wrongly eschewed landing at nearby North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, wanting to make it back inland to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. When a second engine on the plane also failed, the jet went down in residential University City. Several houses were destroyed and four people were killed.

Nearly three months later, the Marines held a press conference to announce the results of a crash investigation. Refreshingly, the military pulled no punches. Mistakes were identified. The military careers of four officers were ended. Nine other Marines and sailors were reprimanded, and the pilot was grounded indefinitely. I watched the news conference with incredulity. Military brass showed impressive honesty. Their collective apology rang as heartfelt.

Perhaps nothing less was due to University City, especially Don Yoon. This Korean grocer lost his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law when the plane roared into his neighborhood just after the pilot ejected. What a horrible fate. You think your young family is sheltered under the safety blanket of your home, only to have an FA/18 fall out of the sky and obliterate the foundation of your soul.

The day after Yoon lost four cornerstones in his heart, he attended his own news conference. With tears in his eyes, he publicly forgave Neubauer. And when the Marines released their investigation on March 3, a spokesman for Yoon said the "candor and sensitivity" shown to the family was appreciated.

It's useful to take note of actions like these, insomuch as we don't exactly live in the age of candor and sensitivity. We're all under daily aural attack by shock-and-shout antics from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann and Nancy Grace. So when whispers of accountability and human grace can make headlines, it's inspirational and refreshing.

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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