Charlie Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. He flew 74 consecutive successful combat missions. However on his 75th mission, his F4Phantom fighter was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile and he was forced to eject. The only thing between him and imminent death was his parachute that he prayed would open. The parachute did open and Charlie made it down to the ground alive, but he was captured and spent 6 years as a prisoner of war in a Vietnamese prison camp.
One day, many years after returning to his homeland, Charlie and his wife were sitting in a little restaurant in Kansas City when he noticed two tables over was this guy who kept looking at him.
Charlie looked back but didn’t recognize him, but he kept catching this guy staring at him. Finally the guy stood up and walked over to Charlie’s table and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”Charlie looked up at him and said, “Yes, I am Captain Plumb.”The guy 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.”
Somewhat dumbfounded, Charlie looked up at the guy and asked, “How in the world did you know all that?” The man chuckled and said, “Because I packed your parachute.”
Charlie was speechless. The man grabbed Charlie’s hand and pumped his arm and said, “I guess it worked,” and walked off.
Charlie laid awake that night, thinking about all the times he had walked through the long narrow room, below sea level on the aircraft carrier, with the tables where the men packed the parachutes. He wondered how many times he must have walked past this man without even saying “hi,” “good morning” or “good job” or “I appreciate what you do.”
“How many times did I pass the man whose job would eventually save my life…because I was a jet jockey, a top gun racing around the sky at twice the speed of sound; because I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor? ” he asked himself.
Think about this for yourself. How many times in life do you pass the people who help you out the most? The people who come out of the far corners of your life just when you need them the most and pack your parachutes for you? The people who go the extra mile, the people who don’t look for the kudos or the accolades or the achievement medal or even the bonus check—the folks who are just out there packing parachutes?