Sometime back my friend Dennis Card sent me something that brought back some very fond memories. It was an article about Lt. Charles Plumb, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands, where he was captured and spent six long years in a Communist Vietnamese prison. He survived that ordeal, and today travels around to lecture about lessons learned from that experience.
The article says: “One day Charles Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant and a man came up and said, ‘You’re Lt. Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!’ ‘How in the world did you know that?’ Charlie asked? ‘I packed your parachute,’ the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, ‘I guess the chute worked!’ Plumb assured him, ‘It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today’.
“Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, ‘I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform … a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back, and bellbottom trousers. I wonder 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.’ Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know. Today as he travels the country and makes public appearances, Charlie asks his audience, ‘Who’s packing your parachute?’”
The lesson here is simple, yet profound. Everyone has someone who provides what he or she needs to make it through the day. WOW! Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory. He needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. You see, he called on all these supports before reaching safety. His experience should remind all of us to prepare ourselves to weather whatever storms lie ahead. Because of his own personal experience, he admonishes every person to realize that they have an opportunity to impact others, and to be aware as they go through life to recognize those people who pack their parachute. A friendly hello, saying please or thank you, or just saying something nice may often make their day.