From the Chaplain:
During the month of May we honor two important groups of people in our lives, police officers (during Police Week) and our military personnel in the armed services (on Memorial Day). We honor them because they made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives in the service of Peace and Justice. We honor them because they did what others would not do, that is, they placed themselves in harm’s way, so that we might enjoy our days and nights in security and freedom.
Nevertheless, while we remember those who gave their lives on the streets or in the battlefield, we also pay tribute to the many police officers and military personnel, who daily risk their lives, whether on the streets or in the battlefield, in the performance of their duties to protect, serve, and keep the peace.
We thank in a small way those who have died, with words of their valor inscribed on granite walls. But we can and should thank, with our genuine words inscribed in and spoken from our hearts, those who still live and work among and for us.
These thoughts remind me of the very moving story of one Charles Plum, who was a Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface to air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Communist Vietnamese prison. He survived this ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience. What follows is his recounting of a story that he tells his audience, which is also in his book. I found it inspirational and worthy of everyone’s consideration, so I a passing it on to you.
Packing Parachutes – By Charlie Plumb
Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. A man about two tables away kept looking at me. I didn’t recognize him. A few minutes into our meal he stood up and walked over to my table, looked down at me, pointed his finger in my face and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”
I looked up and I 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.”
I said, “How in the world did you know all that?”
He replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”
I was speechless. I staggered to my feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed my hand, he pumped my arm and said, “I guess it worked.”
“Yes sir, indeed it did”, I 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.”
He said, “Were all the panels there?”
“Well sir, I must shoot straight with you,” I said, “of the eighteen panels that were supposed to be in that parachute, I had fifteen good ones. Three were torn, but it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I jumped out of that jet fighter at a high rate of speed, close to the ground. That’s what tore the panels in the chute. It wasn’t the way you packed it.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, “do you keep track of all the parachutes you pack?”
“No” he responded, “it’s enough gratification for me just to know that I’ve served.”
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept thinking about that man. I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back and bell bottom trousers. I wondered how many times I might have passed him on board the Kitty Hawk. I wondered 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. 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, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he did not know? I could have cared less…until one day my parachute came along and he packed it for me.
When he speaks, Charles Plum usually asks his audience, “Who is packing your parachute?” Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes, when is plane was shot down over enemy territory. He needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes the challenges of every-day life prevent us from seeing what is really important. We may fail to say hello or good-bye, please or thanks, to congratulate or compliment, or just do a random act of kindness for someone we don’t even know, for no reason at all.
So the philosophical question here is this: How’s your parachute packing coming along? Who looks to you for strength in times of need? And perhaps, more importantly, who are the special people in your life who provide you the encouragement you need when the chips are down? Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your chute.
Chap. Fr. Joe D’Angelo