Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. A man about two tables away kept looking at me. I didn’t recognize him. A few minutes into our meal he stood up and walked over to my table, looked down at me, pointed his finger in my face and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”
I looked up and I said, “Yes Sir, I’m Captain Plumb.”
He said, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
I said, “How in the world did you know all that?”
He replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”
I was speechless. I staggered to my feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed my hand, he pumped my arm and said, “I guess it worked.”
“Yes Sir, indeed it did”, I said, “and I must tell you I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person.”
He said, “Were all the panels there?”
“Well Sir, I must shoot straight with you,” I said, “of the eighteen panels that were supposed to be in that parachute, I had fifteen good ones. Three were torn, but it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I jumped out of that jet fighter at a high rate of speed, close to the ground. That’s what tore the panels in the parachute. It wasn’t the way you packed it.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, “do you keep track of all the parachutes you pack?”
“No” he responded, “it’s enough gratification for me just to know that I’ve served.”
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept thinking about that man. I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on board the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said “good morning”, “how are you”, or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor. How many hours did he spend on that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those parachutes? I could have cared less… until one day my parachute came along and he packed it for me.
I’d like to mention that I needed many kind of parachutes when my plane was shot down over enemy territory.. I needed my physical parachute, my mental parachute, my emotional parachute and my spiritual parachute. I called on all these supports before reaching safety.
So the philosophical question is: How’s your parachute packing coming along? Who looks to you for strength in times of need? And perhaps, more importantly, who are the special people in your life who provide you the encouragement you need when the chips are down?
In the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, thank you, sorry.. or congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to him/her.. or give a compliment.. or just do something nice for no reason.
Recognize the people who pack your parachute. Perhaps it’s time right now to give some of those people a call and thank them for packing your parachute.
Source Credits: Charlie Plumb. He graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom jet on 74 successful combat missions over Vietnam. On his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, he was shot down, captured, tortured, and imprisoned in an 8 foot x 8 foot cell. He spent the next 2,103 days as a Prisoner Of War in communist war prisons.