Captain Charlie Plumb was a U.S. Navy fighter pilot who served in Vietnam. He flew 74 successful combat missions. On his 75th, just five days before he was to return home, his plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Charlie was forced to eject. The only thing between him and imminent death was his parachute. After it opened, he was shot at by the enemy for the entirety of his descent. He landed alive, was captured, and spent 2,103 days as a prisoner of war in a communist Vietnamese prison camp.
Many years after being repatriated, Charlie was eating dinner with his wife and another couple at a restaurant in Kansas City. He noticed a man staring at him from two tables over. He didn’t recognize this man, but kept catching him looking over at his table. Finally, the man stood up and walked over to Charlie’s table, where he said, “You’re Captain Plumb.” Charlie acknowledged that this was true and the man said, “You’re that guy. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You’re a fighter pilot, part of that ‘Top Gun’ outfit. You launched from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, you parachuted into enemy territory, and you spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
Surprised, Charlie looked up at the man and asked, “How in the world do you know all that?” The man chuckled and replied, “Because I packed your parachute.”
Charlie was speechless while the man grabbed his hand, shook it, and said, “I guess it worked.”
Later that night, Charlie lay awake wondering how many times he had walked through that narrow room below sea level on the aircraft carrier where all those men sat at a table packing parachutes. How many times did he walk by without even saying “hi,” “good morning,” or “I appreciate what you do”? How often it must have been that he passed the man who would eventually save his life and not acknowledged him, because Charlie was a fighter pilot and this man was just a sailor.
Who in your school packs parachutes every day but may go unnoticed? Take a few minutes to think about how they make a difference and thank them.