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NDE on the Battlefield: Going Far Beyond John Wayne

Posted on 24 October 2016, 9:53

Sometime during or around April 1969, I was sitting in an open-air theater on the roof of a three- or four-story building occupied by the USO (United Services Organizations) in central Saigon.  Every few minutes, the skies about 20 miles or more away – to the southeast, I think – would light up and we’d hear bombs exploding, as the building we were sitting atop of rattled a little. It was somewhat surreal as the movie we were watching was “The Green Berets,” starring John Wayne. It was about the Vietnam War, the very war that was lighting the skies and shaking our building.  I recall thinking about how strange it was that I was watching a movie about a war that I could see taking place in the distance.  I wondered where reality began and left off. 

As I read If Morning Never Comes: A Soldier’s Near-Death Experience on the Battlefield, recently released by White Crow Books, I wondered if Bill Vandenbush, the author, was seeing and hearing the same thing that I did that very night, because it was during April 1969 that he suffered severe combat wounds and had a near-death experience somewhere south of Saigon, the victim of friendly bombs dropped in the wrong place. Perhaps he had already been air-evacuated to a military hospital in Japan by that time or maybe it was just before his body was torn apart and he had his NDE.  He may have been sloshing his way through some rice paddy on a patrol mission.  My military days were well over by that time and I was in Vietnam in a civilian capacity while visiting some military camps around the country.  The Viet Cong didn’t seem to concern themselves with Americans in civilian clothes and in non-military vehicles with local drivers. 

During his youth, Vandenbush idolized John Wayne, seeing him as the ultimate warrior, even though Wayne never spent a day in the military. “I had grown up in the John Wayne generation, learning about war from the Hollywood perspective where every man was a hero and every soldier was adored by his nation and its people,” he writes.  “I was greatly influenced by John Wayne’s macho image and the respect he commanded.  In the movies, John Wayne was always a hero.”

But after Vandenbush joined the Army in 1968 he began to realize that it was not nearly as glamorous as Hollywood made it out to be.  “The horror, the evil, the violence, the blood, guts, and death of war are so far removed from living and training in the U.S. that it was impossible to fully grasp the significance and long-term effect of that experience without being there,” he continues, adding that it never occurred to him how horrific it would be when he saw his friends die or how traumatic it would be to shoot at a real person.  Nevertheless, there was still a little Boy Scout in him and he expected, at age 18, that it was all part of becoming a man.

Bill having a beer at a Firebase in the mountains west of Quang Ngai

He recalls that on his first patrol his mouth became dry and he began to sweat profusely.  When he couldn’t sweat anymore, it felt like his body was on fire.  “I started to shake and felt like my head was coming apart.  We had only been walking about ten minutes but every step was pure torture ... I was hyperventilating and I had dry heaves; my heart was pounding loudly and I couldn’t control my fear.  I thought I was going to die of fright.  Never in my short life had I felt so much fear.” 

In a matter of time, however, his fear was replaced by a sense of pride, a sense of teamwork, as he worked together with a large group of men in a coordinated effort, utilizing high tech, modern warfare equipment that gave him a feeling of invincibility.
He began to feel just like John Wayne.  It was suddenly life imitating art.

It was while leading a squad on a patrol that things went wrong – that a bomb dropped by an American plane made him a victim of the war. He recalls lying in the dust and dirt of a dry rice paddy, seeing waves of heat rising from the ground, his men safe on the other side of the rice paddy, and the enemy still firing at them.  He took off his helmet and saw his right eye fall into it.  “Once I had accepted death and knew there was nothing I could do to avoid it, all the worry, fear, and pain faded away,” he recalls. “All that was left to do was relax and let it happen.  However, as he curled up on the ground he was “suddenly struck by an incredible feeling of peace and tranquility.”  He felt suspended from time and space, between the here-and-now and the here-ever-after.  He experienced a dark tunnel but felt bathed in a soft light as he continued to glide forward.  As the light washed over him, he felt an incredible sense of calm.  And then he was thrust into a bright white light and he no longer possessed a body.  Everything was beautiful and totally fulfilling.  He felt that he was in a different dimension, one in which he encountered his grandfather, who had died several years earlier. While talking with his grandfather, a “ball of energy” appeared and told him that he must return to his earthly place and fulfill his higher purpose before again coming to the Light.  There’s much more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. 

Vandenbush’s recovery was slow and challenging, and there was much adversity to overcome in continuing on in the earthly life, including two divorces and many job frustrations. His injuries went well beyond his eye, especially affecting his throat and arm. The doctors treating him were not hopeful and even recommended amputation of the arm, but Vandenbush rejected such a procedure.  “The glow from the Light and the guidance from Spirit were so intense and so complete, that I responded to the constant negative prognosis with, ‘They just don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re wrong.  Everything is going to be okay.’”  He writes that the negativity he constantly experienced paled in comparison to the all-encompassing peace and sense of well-being and fulfillment he experienced with the Light.
It was his experience in the Light that kept him going.  I was slowly becoming aware that my wounds were part of my destiny and part of my higher purpose in life,” he muses.  Whenever he encountered hard times, he called upon “Spirit” to get him through them, and he always managed to succeed in overcoming the adversity.

Bill, Shannon, and Luci, at the beach

Vandenbush’s story was originally told in a 2003 book, but he has had another NDE since then, one in which Spirit again communicated with him during the week in which he was in a coma.  He states that this time he went beyond the White Light and was taken on an incredible journey through the universe, observing dimensions and layers that are far more vast than the simple material existence we experience on earth.  Here again, there is much more to his experience than can be covered in this review. 

It is a very inspiring book, especially for the person who doesn’t appreciate adversity and blames all his or her misfortunes on God.  My only concern is that the book begins a bit slowly, the first several chapters covering the 18 years before Vandenbush entered the Army.  It might better have started with his arrival in Vietnam and incorporated bits and pieces of his early childhood here and there as he went on. I mention this only because I tossed it aside after the first two chapters and almost didn’t return to it.  I’m sure glad I did.  It offers so much more than the story of John Wayne might have, although I must confess to never having read John Wayne’s story.

If Morning Never Comes: A Soldier’s Near-Death Experience on the Battlefield by Bill Vandenbush is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  November 7

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The Amazing Bangs Sisters

Posted on 17 October 2016, 8:23

Although I had read about the Bangs Sisters here and there over the years, I really didn’t have a clear picture of what they were all about until I read N. Riley Heagerty’s recently released book, Portraits from Beyond. Heagerty draws from all the available references on the two sisters and offers overwhelming evidence that they were unusually gifted mediums in spite of the usual Internet debunkers who claim they were clever frauds.  They are most remembered for the phenomenon called “precipitated paintings” in which portraits of deceased loved ones and friends appeared on canvases with no humans holding a brush to the canvases.  The sisters would each hold one end of the canvas at a window in daylight, as the surviving friends and relative sat and observed the image of a deceased loved one take shape on the canvas, apparently by a spirit artist, the finished product sometimes taking as little as 8-10 minutes, although the average time seems to have been closer to 30-40 minutes.

Bangs in Black, late 1870’s, Elizabeth left, May, right

Consider this testimonial by Dr. and Mrs. E. H. Thurston of Hagerstown, Indiana, as penned on April 5, 1910:

“Desiring a spirit portrait of our daughter, who passed into the spirit life at the age of thirty years, and having viewed some of the results obtained for others through this remarkable phase of the Bangs Sisters’ mediumship, we decided to make a test of it ourselves.

“Visiting Chesterfield Camp, Indiana, we called upon the Bangs Sisters in their cottage and arranged for our sitting, the hour being the following afternoon. At the stated time we again called at their cottage.  Entering the séance room, and finding only three canvases, I selected two of them, took them out in the sunlight in company with one of the Miss Bangs, exposed them for 15 minutes to the strong rays of the noonday sun, examined the surface thoroughly to fully assure myself that they were not chemically prepared, at the same time to secretly mark them for identification. Returning to the séance room, I placed the canvas on the small table before a well-lighted north window, and by examination of the table and surroundings convinced myself that everything was void of any mechanical apparatus.

“The Bangs Sisters, seated on each side of the table, merely supported the canvas in an upright position with one hand, myself and my wife being seated directly in front of, and not more than two feet from them.  After sitting for a very short time, a dark shadow passed over the canvas, followed by the outline of the head and body; then, to our wonderful amazement, the perfect features of our daughter appeared, with the eyes closed; a few more seconds, and the eyes opened and before us was the beautiful spirit of our deceased daughter, perfectly lifelike in every feature, and which has been instantly recognized by all who knew her when in earth life.  When the picture was completed, the identification marks previously spoken of showed that the canvas had not been tampered with in any way….

Queen Victoria, full-length portrait in all her splendor, Camp Chesterfield, precipitated for Dr. Carson of Kansas City

“Being somewhat familiar with photography and photographic processes, especially solar print work, we are fully convinced that the picture is not the product of any photographic process, and we desire to say right here there was positively no evidence whatsoever of any trick, or slight-of-hand performance; everything was perfectly straightforward and honest, as far as the physical eye could discern, and we went away from the cottage at Camp Chesterfield more convinced than every before of the continuity of life after death, and the beautiful philosophy of Spiritualism.”

Lizzie Bangs was born in 1859 and May Bangs in 1862, both in Maine. Their father was a stove repairman and their mother a housewife.  At some point in their early years, the family moved to Chicago. They began to demonstrate mediumistic ability at ages 11 and 8.  Before the precipitated portraits began, both girls displayed the ability to do automatic writing, slate writing, full-form etherializations, the materialization of spirit hands, clairvoyance, clairaudience, direct-writing by typewriter (no human fingers touching the typewriter keys).  However, it was the spirit paintings that made them famous.

Spirit Ethel, Camp Chesterfield

Heagerty’s research turned up a demonstration before a large audience at Camp Chesterfield during August 1908. Each member of the audience was given a ticket with a numbered stub which was put into a vat for a drawing.  The ticket belonging to a Mr. and Mrs. Alford, a prominent family of Marion, Indiana, who then took their place on the stage.  Lizzie and May sat down near them, never touching the canvas.  After a few moments, a thin, vapor-like cloud or shadow swept across the blank canvas and then disappeared.  Another wave of mist seemed to float and pulsate across the canvas and also vanished.  The other-world artist, it seemed, was making preliminary sketches and trying out different color schemes.  Soon the outline bust form of a person began to appear in the center of the canvas, features becoming more distinct along with the hair and face, and slowly, the entire form of a young girl was clearly distinguishable for all to see.  The eyes on the portrait were close, but suddenly, in a flash, the eyes opened and the audience cheered.  The entire process took about 22 minutes.  Mr. Alford, clearly shaken, stood and announced that he and his wife were visiting Chesterfield for the first time and were not Spiritualists.  He said the portrait was the exact likeness of his daughter, Audrey.  Mrs. Alford then opened up a locket around her neck which contained a photo of their daughter and passed it around for others to compare with the portrait. (See black & white photo of color portrait of Audrey Alford below.)

Audrey Alford, black and white photo of color portrait precipitated in 22 minutes at a demonstration in front of a large audience at Camp Chesterfield in 1911, from Photographing the Invisible by James Coates

Some of the portraits were so life-like that they could have passed for photographs, but nearly all of them were produced in color before color photography came into existence. Moreover, there were no brush strokes to be seen. According to Heagerty, the portraits have been examined by experts over the years and they cannot explain them.

A Dr. Carpenter of Olin, Iowa took his own canvas nailed in a box.  The sitting took some three hours, and Carpenter was about to give up.  However, the spirit messenger then told him to open the box.  “We accordingly opened the box and to my great surprise and joy beheld a complete life-sized picture of my wife and child in the spirit world.  The picture is so natural and life-like hat many of my neighbors and friends fully recognize it although they have been in the spirit life for 33 years,” Carpenter stated, adding that he had asked only for a portrait of his deceased wife.  The addition of the daughter was totally unexpected. Carpenter pointed out that he observed the whole process and the box containing the canvas never left his sight.   

Journalist George Lieberknecht reported on the typewriter phenomenon, stating that there was a circle of six men, one woman, and one of the Bangs sisters.  With not one of them touching the typewriter, messages came “with an astonishing degree of swiftness and dexterity.”  The message addressed to him was from his deceased son and was 186 words long.

One of the best known researchers studying the Bangs Sisters was Vice-Admiral W. Usborne Moore, retired from the British navy where he commanded a fleet of surveying ships.  As such, he was a man accustomed to precision and detail.  He visited the Bangs Sisters anonymously, first receiving nine and a half pages of direct writing on slates untouched by the Bangs sisters from an old friend, referring to facts and happenings of 40 years earlier which only the spirit and Moore had any knowledge of. Moore’s brother accompanied him and received 13 pages of information from three different spirit friends. Moore observed that the Bangs never came in contact with the slates.

In one test, Moore put nine sheets of paper between slates, all clearly marked in order to rule out the skeptic’s theory that the Bangs Sisters had somehow prepared answers beforehand (even though they didn’t know what the questions were) and by sleight-of-hand substituted them.  Further, Moore, at the suggestion of his friend, Sir William Crookes, added lithium to the ink he brought for the test, a chemical not found in ordinary ink.  When Crookes later examined the papers, he found that lithium was present, thus ruling out some deception by the Bangs Sisters, who would have used their own ink.

Of course, the skeptics had their theories. One Rev. Stanley Krebs, theorized that the Bangs Sisters somehow got photos of deceased loved ones beforehand and brought the finished products, some 20 inches by 30 inches, into the room hidden in their long dresses and managed to distract the sitter long enough to substitute the finished product for the blank canvas.  However, this did not explain how they got the photographs in the first place or how they obtained all the evidential information that came through in the slate and automatic writing.  And there were times when nothing was produced, as when researcher Hereward Carrington sat with them, thus leading him to believe that they were charlatans.  Carrington was then just beginning his career as a psychical researcher and prided himself on exposing fraudulent mediums. However, as he gained experience he came to believe in mediumship, though he apparently never again sat with the Bangs.

There is so much more to the story and so many other testimonials discovered by Heagerty that it is difficult to believe these two sisters were anything but genuine mediums, even if modern references write them off as frauds.  Heagerty’s offers around 20 of the spirit portraits in the book, some of them so life-like that one almost senses that they are, in fact, still alive.

Portraits From Beyond: The Mediumship of the Bangs Sisters by N. Riley Heagerty is published by White Crow Books.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

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The Medjugorje Apparitions: Real or Not?

Posted on 03 October 2016, 8:16

As a Catholic school student during the 1940s, I read or heard about the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Guadalupe, Fatima, and Lourdes.  I even prayed with my parents at the Guadalupe cathedral outside Mexico City.  However, upon parting ways with the Church some 50 years ago, I more or less forgot about all those alleged apparitions and other “miracles” involving various saints.  I say “more or less” because there were times now and then when I pondered on them and tried to reconcile them with the paranormal phenomena I had come to accept as genuine.  I wondered why I should believe that D. D. Home, one of the most famous mediums in the annals of psychical research, could be levitated (lifted by spirits) while various saints who are said to have been levitated could not.  Or to put it another way, I wondered if many saints were, in fact, mediums, even though the Church might not approve of such an “occult” label and reject the idea that non-Catholics might have the same “gifts” as elevated Catholics. 
As the debunkers view it, either the various children who claimed to see the Blessed Virgin Mary (Blessed Mother or Mother Mary, if you’re not Catholic) craved attention and were playing childish pranks, or they were underfed and suffered from hallucinations, perhaps a combination of both.  Where more than one child was involved, it was nothing more than a collaborative prank or a collective hallucination. The pranks and/or hallucinations continued over time, the debunkers reason, because the young “visionaries” cherished the celebrity status accorded them by those simple-minded people who believe they were/are actually in contact with the spirit world. 

As set forth in My Heart Will Triumph, a recently published book, such apparitions of the Blessed Mother are continuing today, in the village of Medjugorje in what was once the country of Yugoslavia.  Author Mirjana Soldo is one of the six visionaries experiencing the apparitions, which began on June 24, 1981, when she was just 16 and a sophomore in high school. The other five ranged from 10 to 16.  According to Mirjana, the apparitions were daily for the first 18 months, but 13 times a year and mostly individually for her after that, on her birthday on March 18 and on the second of every month.  That of September 2, 2016 can be seen on

The messages communicated by the Blessed Mother are primarily petitions to love, forgive, overcome, live in peace, and expect eternal life.  “Our Lady asks us to return the Word of God to our homes,” Mirjana, now 51, writes in this autobiography.  “Do not let it sit in a dusty corner like a decoration, but put it in a place of honor where it will be seen and touched.”  She then quotes a message given to her on August 2, 2015:  With a simple heart accept His word and live it.  If you live His word, you will pray.  If you live His word, you will love with a merciful love; you will love each other.

As recent as March 2, 2016, the message was:  Free yourselves from everything that binds you to only what is earthly and permit what is of God to form your life by your prayer and sacrifice… Seemingly more significant than the regular messages received over the past 35 years, however, are the 10 “secrets” entrusted to Mirjana and the other visionaries. These secrets are yet to be revealed and will not be revealed until the Blessed Mother tells the visionaries that it is time.  As I understand it, the secrets were given individually to the six visionaries over many years and they were instructed not to compare notes or discuss them with each other or with anyone else.  “I can say this much – after events contained in the first two secrets come to pass, Our Lady will leave a permanent sign on Apparition Hill where she first appeared,” Mirjana writes. “Everyone will be able to see that human hands could not have made it.  People will be able to photograph and film the sign, but in order to truly comprehend it – to experience it with the heart – they will need to come to Medjugorje.  Seeing it live, with the eyes, will be far more beautiful.”

Mirjana says that 10 days before each event, she is to tell a priest who is to be chosen for that purpose and he will then tell the world three days before the event takes place, after both she and he fast and pray for seven days.  Mirjana adds that she was very troubled by the seventh secret and asked the Blessed Mother for the event to be lessened.  She was instructed to pray and rallied friends and family members in Sarajevo to pray and fast.  Eight months later, during an apparition, she was told that it has “softened,” but not to again ask for such mitigation since “God’s will must be done.”

A parchment with elegant cursive handwriting setting forth the 10 secrets was given to her by the Blessed Mother at the last daily apparition, Mirjana claims.  In a moment of weakness, she showed the parchment to a cousin and friend, but what they read did not match what Mirjana read.  The cousin said she saw it as some kind a prayer or poem, while the friend saw it as a letter from someone asking for help.

Today, after 35 years, Mirjana often visits with the five other visionaries.  “...we might talk about our families or our missions, but we never discuss the secrets,” she writes.  “The six of us do not even know if all the secrets we’ve been given are the same.” 
What I found especially interesting about Mirjana’s story is the socio-political aspects of the communist regime and their attempts to stifle the visionaries.  Mirjana suddenly became an outcast.  She was frequently interrogated by the police, abandoned by her friends, expelled from her high school and forced to attend a school for delinquents, and her family was threatened.  Newspapers castigated the visionaries, one of them referring to them as “six yokels.” 

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of the Medjugorje apparitions.  I don’t believe they were or are pranks carried out by the six visionaries over some 35 years.  Supporting this belief are various studies by scientists – neurological and psychological, including hypnotic – ruling out deception by the visionaries.  Moreover, there is too much sincerity and earnestness in the writings of Mirjana to give any real weight to the possibility that she has carried on the deception for 35 years because she relishes the celebrity status.  Such deception would be in complete opposition to the truths she is attempting to relay in the book.  If deception, you’d think one of the six would have exposed it all by now. 

To the extent that hallucinations are defined to be perceptions outside of known reality, the apparitions may very well be hallucinations; however, that does not mean they are unreal in a greater reality.  It does mean that they are outside the boundaries of mainstream science.  In the book, Scientific & Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, authors René Laurentin and Henri Joyeux discuss the state of “ecstasy” observed with the six visionaries. “Suddenly their gaze, already fixed on the location of the apparition, becomes more intense,” they explain.  “There are hardly any movements of the eyelids.  Their faces become almost imperceptibly brighter and turn toward the invisible speaker.  They kneel down very naturally, all at the same moment…. Their lips can be seen moving, but no voices are heard, just as it was with Bernadette at Lourdes. They were not conscious of this and were surprised when we questioned them about this unusual phenomenon. They believe they are speaking normally.”

Close observation by the researchers yielded no indication of play-acting or any attempts to follow a leader in the group or otherwise coordinate their movements. The visionaries seemed to lose contact with the surroundings and remain insensitive to stimulation, even pinching and prodding.  At the beginning of the ecstasy, eye movements ceased almost simultaneously and the eyes remained immobile.
What I have difficulty with are some of the messages – those suggesting worship over works, rote prayer over creative entreaty, and mindless rituals over meaningful tributes.  I find it difficult to believe that an advanced soul, such as the Blessed Mother must be, would urge such mechanistic activities as a way to overcome materialism and return to a greater spiritual consciousness. It may be that I am more spiritually challenged than I had realized, but I am certain that I could never return to such a perfunctory spiritual consciousness as that offered by orthodox religions, Catholic or Protestant. 

Just as mediums are said to be limited by the capacity of their own brains in what can be filtered through those brains by more advanced spiritual beings, it could be that the visionaries are likewise limited in what they can understand and communicate, thus interpreting everything in words and ways that are within their vocabularies and knowledge.  But then one wonders why the Blessed Mother didn’t recognize that her messages would be distorted or oversimplified, unless her primary objective was to reach the masses – those with limited spiritual consciousness who had strayed from spiritual ways to materialistic ways and could only find their way back by returning to pagan-like worship, rote prayer and the rituals of religion.  Better a narrowed spiritual consciousness than embracing materialism and moving into hedonism, as the world seems to have done.

At the risk of being charged with blasphemy and spending eternity in hell if the Catholic Church really has it all figured out, I see another possibility – that of the “group soul.”  According to fairly recent revelation, many souls continue to identify with their earthly religions after transitioning to a certain realm on the other side, and thus there are Catholic communities, Baptist communities, Mormon communities, Jewish communities, etc. in what might be called the lower-middle realms of the afterlife. As the souls continue to evolve, they eventually free themselves from the restricted beliefs of their respective religions while moving to higher realms on their way to Oneness with God.

Combine the group soul idea with the findings of Allan Kardec, the pioneering French psychical researcher who purportedly received messages from John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, St. Vincent De Paul, St. Louis, “The Spirit of Truth,” Socrates, Plato, Fénélon, Franklin and Swedenborg.  As Kardec came to understand, superior spirits, while preserving their individuality, have no need to be identified with their teachings delivered while on earth, but because humans seem to need an identity in order to fix their ideas, spirits who identify with the teachings of the famous personage and belong to the same “family” or “collective whole” may take that famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the signature, that is important. In effect, the Marian apparitions may be of well-intentioned spirits in a Catholic community at some mid-level afterlife realm.  As explained to Kardec, this is not really deception, as it is somehow sanctioned by the famous personage or authorized by him or her.  It’s another area in which we might error in assuming that we can apply terrestrial reasoning to celestial ways and means.

The group soul idea might seem far fetched, but it is the only way I can reconcile it all, unless, as I said, the Blessed Mother is really appearing and trying to reach the masses, not those who have attempted to move beyond the perfunctory ways of organized religions. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

Next blog post: October 17 


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Fallen Soldier Convinces His Famous Father of Life After Death – On September 14, 1915, Second Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, the youngest of six sons of Sir Oliver Lodge, a distinguished British physicist and pioneer in electricity and radio, as well as the former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was killed in WWI action in Flanders. Read here
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