At a time when few of us have a break in our schedule or the clarity of mind to do so, we should each take a moment every now and then to give thanks and words of appreciation to those who have contributed to our personal and career accomplishments.
In fact, when you look back over the years, you might be astonished at the number of people who have encouraged and supported you on your challenging journey to success.
Today’s Generational Gem is a true story that originated in 1967 and will hopefully be passed on for decades to come.
It’s the story of Captain J. Charlie Plumb who is a common man with an uncommon story. Raised in America’s heartland, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy and became a jet fighter pilot. After 75 combat missions over North Vietnam, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. He ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent the next six years in a Communist prison undergoing degradation, humiliation, brutality and torture.
Years later, Captain Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. As they ate, Charlie couldn’t help but notice a man a few tables away that kept looking at him. Charlie realized that he didn’t know the man and was surprised when the stranger stood up and walked over to his table.
Upon arriving, he looked Charlie in the eyes and said, “You’re Captain Plumb, aren’t you?”
Charlie looked up and 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.”
“Yes, how did you know?” asked Charlie.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.
Charlie was speechless. He staggered to his feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed Charlie’s hand, he pumped Charlie’s arm and said, “I guess it worked.”
“Yes sir, indeed it did,” Charlie 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.”
Today, at 67 years of age, Plumb is a professional speaker sharing his experiences with audiences in every industry. He often speaks of his realization that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots’ lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said hello, let alone said thanks. He often wondered how many times he might have passed his benefactor on board the Kitty Hawk … he wondered how many times he might have seen him and not even said “Good morning,” “How are you,” or anything at all. After all, Charlie was a jet fighter pilot and the parachute packer 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 chutes? Charlie could have cared less … until one day his parachute came along and the sailor packed it for him.
We all have someone who provides what we need to make it through the day. Like Captain Plumb when he was shot down over enemy territory, we all need many different kinds of parachutes in dealing with our personal challenges. We need a physical parachute, a mental parachute, an emotional parachute, and a spiritual parachute. Different times, different situations, different challenges … sooner or later we all need each of those parachutes in order to achieve the success we seek.
Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason.
As you go through the coming weeks, months, and years, recognize those people who packed, and continue to pack your parachutes. Remember to say thanks. More important, remember the lesson and the message. Remember to pass them along. And most important, don’t forget that you are needed to pack someone else’s parachute. Do a great job!