I was on a plane again over the weekend, this time to Washington DC. The flights get old, but this one is different. The whole atmosphere had morphed.
As I looked around me, I saw dozens of elderly men in t-shirts, smiling and laughing and talking to one another. It felt like I’d crashed a geriatric version of a Rotary Club meeting. Suddenly it became clear who these men were. They were World War 2 veterans, flying from Atlanta to Washington DC. 75 of them. The youngest one in the group was 80 years old. Some were part of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. Some fought in Europe and others in the Pacific campaign. Many were now in wheelchairs. None of them had ever seen the WW 2 memorial at our nation’s capital, so they were all going to see it together before they passed away.
These guys acted like a group of kids. They were all smiling and laughing in a giddy way. During the flight, those who could get up were snapping photos of each other. As I overheard their conversations, they were all reminiscing, and expressing gratitude, talking about how much each had meant to the other. I guess that’s how you act when you are part of something so significant. As our plane taxied on the runway, the government had sent a water truck out and in their honor, they washed down the plane before it took off. The flight captain explained what was happening and everyone applauded. The veterans humbly smiled and looked downward. They were not used to this attention.
I sat back in my seat and reflected. What a contrast their attitudes are to mine. These guys had all scraped up enough money to survive the Great Depression—and we’re grumbling over losing some of our investment money on Wall Street. These guys had sacrificed their limbs and lives to save the world from tyranny—and we complain about poor customer service or bad traffic. These guys are grateful for their lives—and I am keeping score on what the world owes me.
I just met a hero. Actually, I saw 75 of them. Ordinary men who have never lost their perspective on life nor their values through their hardships. In fact, maybe it was the hardship that enabled them to hold tightly to their values and attitudes. Perhaps the tough times galvanized them to their values. May this bad economy our tough times do the same to us.