A friend of mine tells the story of a US Navy sailor he accidentally met several years after that sailor had actually saved his life. He was sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City as a man about two tables away kept looking over at him. He didn’t recognize him. A few minutes into his meal the sailor stood up, walked over to my friend’s table, looked down at him, pointed his finger in his face and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”
My friend looked up and said, “Yes, I’m Captain Plumb.”
The sailor 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.”
My friend said, “How in the world did you know all that?”
The sailor replied, “Because, I packed your parachute!”
My friend, Captain Charles Plumb USNR, (Ret.), is the author of “I’m no Hero” and travels the world telling this powerful story. The following is an excerpt from a recent conversation:
“Greg, after that encounter, I was speechless. I staggered to my feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with the perfect response. He grabbed my hand and said, “I guess it worked!”
“Indeed it did, my friend”, I said. “And I must tell you, I’ve said many prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person.”
He asked, “Were all the panels there?”
“Well,” I said, “I must be honest —of the eighteen panels 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, and very close to the ground. That’s what tore the panels in the chute. It wasn’t the way you packed it.”
“Now, let me ask you a question,” I said. “Do you keep track of all the parachutes you’ve packed?” Now what follows is perhaps the most significant part of the story.
“No,” he responded. “It’s enough gratification for me just to know that I’ve served,” responded the man who packed my parachute.
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; bib in the back, bell-bottom trousers, and a Dixie-cup hat. 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,” or “How are you?” or anything. You see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor. But how many hours did that sailor spend at that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those life-saving parachutes? I’m ashamed to admit that at the time, I could have cared less–until one day my parachute came along and he packed it for me!
Charlie Plumb asked me some very thought provoking questions that I will pass along to you as the excerpt of the conversation continues:
“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 the encouragement you need when the chips are down?”
Plumb continued, “Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your parachute. I needed a variety of “parachutes” when my plane was shot down over enemy territory–I needed a physical parachute, a mental parachute, an emotional parachute, and most importantly, a spiritual parachute.”
I’m often asked: “How did you do it, Commander? How did you survive six years in a prisoner of war camp? I could have never done it.”
My answer is always, “Of course you could.” My secret for enduring six years of hell is really not a secret at all. First and foremost, I had faith in an omniscient God, knowing that His will would be done. I never doubted that I could persevere; I simply trusted God’s promise to answer my prayers. I also loved my country, its people, and its freedoms. I realized that, because of the human element, mistakes could be made. But in growing up I had discerned that most of the people in this great land are honorable and compassionate. If it had not been so, I would not have accepted the commission to protect these ideals.
Second, I had self-discipline. It would have been easier to avoid torture by succumbing to my captive’s interrogations. It would have been easier to assume helplessness by blaming an evil world. I could have rationalized myself into mental and physical paralysis. Quite simply, I could have just simply “laid the bricks.” However, strict self-obedience gave me the ability to persevere.
Third, I had pride. I was proud to know an omnipotent God. I was then and continue to be proud of my country and its heritage. I was proud of my family. I was proud of myself. So, I will ask again, who packed your parachute? Most importantly, who’s parachute are you packing?