Ken Burns’ extraordinary film series on World War 2 was recently on PBS. In that series, he explored the lives of a variety of Americans – average people – in and out of uniform, from small towns and big cities who quietly, competently, and generously responded when America, thrust into war, called for their help.
As I listened to the elders describe war experiences their caring and competent words resonated through me. Words expressed their concern for their own personal survival but they also spoke of their apprehension for those around them.
Nobel Prize winning author Elie Wiesel has written that dangerous or tragic events motivate “Americans to help one another…” He said, “Human beings are defined by their solidarity with other people, especially when the other fellow is threatened or wounded.”
War, or catastrophic weather, earthquakes, personal or familial tragedy shocks us into the reality of perceiving what is truly important in life. These events should also trigger us to spontaneously appreciate what we have and give thanks to God.
Yet, our lives are usually not filled with these catastrophic problems, and as we move through life we may miss what is truly important. I am reminded of a man who made this point so very well.
Captain J. Charles Plumb was a Navy jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane, on May 19, 1967, was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected over North Vietnam and parachuted into enemy hands. He and his radar intercept officer, Gary Anderson were captured, tortured, and spent six horrific years in a Communist prison camp. He survived the ordeal and was released in 1973. He occasionally speaks on lessons learned from those years. In one of those lectures, he told a thought-provoking story.
Upon his return to the States, he and his wife Cathy were dining out in a restaurant, and a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You were a fighter pilot in Vietnam from the carrier Kitty Hawk; and you were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
The man looked at him for a few seconds and said: “I’m the guy that packed your parachute!”
Captain Plumb recalled that he wasn’t able sleep that night, thinking about that man. He told his wife, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform. I wonder 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 a sailor.”
He thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a table in the belly of the ship weaving the shrouds and carefully folding the silks of each chute. There were over 5600 officers and sailors on the Kitty Hawk, and here was this unnamed sailor, vigilantly and patiently working, holding in his hands the fate of someone he probably didn’t even know.
On this Thanksgiving Day we need to ask ourselves: “Who’s packing our parachute?”
Whether we recognize it or not we all have someone who provides what we need to make it through the day – it may be a loved one, or, it may be God Himself. Fighter pilot Plumb’s words nudge us to do a gut check. His words prod us to give thanks for the people in our life, and in our history as a nation. To give thanks for the food that will today grace our tables and for the religious and political liberty that we enjoy; for the ability to pursue a dream whatever it might be, or the confidence that comes from knowing that when we climb into the cockpit of our lives other people are there to support us, the most important person being God Himself.
So as we continue our Eucharistic banquet, let us remember that God packs our parachute every day. He, too, may be unseen, down in the belly of our soul, carefully folding and weaving the silks of our life; His care, love, and mercy enabling us to enjoy the harvest of our labors and appreciate those who love us.
On this important day, and in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, let us now say that beautiful prayer that we all learned as children: Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Thanks to the American Ex POW website: http://www.axpow.org/stories-whopacksyourparachute.htm for the story of Captain J. Charles Plumb. The above post is the Thanksgiving Day (11/28/2013) homily that Deacon Paul O. Iacono will deliver at the 9 AM Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, RI USA.