I’ve never traveled light. Once, just once, I was able to fly with just carry-on luggage. I’ll never do it again.
I like bags, and I like my stuff in bags. And I like to be prepared for any opportunity that I might have to get in a stitch or two, read a chapter or two or just write. It’s a challenge to pack light.
So it was a challenge to board that small plane in Gillette with the narrow aisle. I had all my stuff that I wanted on that flight, just in case I has time to stitch, read, or write. Turned out that I didn’t have a need for any of my stuff. Instead, I met a hero.
I knew immediately there was something special about Frank. He saw me, saw my stuff, and immediately asked if I needed any of his room to store my stuff. Who does that? And who talks on planes? I found a place for everything and introduced myself. Frank’s eyes shone deeply, I knew there was a lot in this man. And there was an unbridled enthusiasm glowing. He kept looking out the window with the anticipation of a young child flying for the first time. He seemed a bit nervous so I asked him if he was comfortable flying. He shared this was his first time in an airplane. He had flown in helicopters, but never an airplane.
The plane accelerated and we began to fly. We marveled at the landscape below and discovered we were both geology geeks and we helped identify landmarks. Then Frank shared his story.
Frank answered the call and served our great nation after 9/11. The attack on our soil was more than Frank could handle — he had to do something. He sailed through basic training — even the wall which I can’t imagine ever getting over. I thought he would have flown sometime during his service. Buses and trains got him around during training, and he got to Iraq in a ship. Then it was a helicopter — and that’s where “the shit got real,” shared Frank.
When he first heard the sharp noises, he didn’t know what it was. Then silent murmurs spread through the copter that they were under gunfire. Frank’s eyes took him back to Iraq, “Nothing prepared me for that.”
Frank was wounded, a bullet caught him in his leg. His unit was under constant gunfire. Unable to get Frank out, they did the next best thing and moved him into a tank to keep him safe. Fueled with adrenaline, Frank kept fighting once in the tank. Three days later, the fighting subsided enough to bring a chopper in; Frank would finally receive medical care. Three days after being shot.
After a few moments of silence, Frank showed me his leg and the area where he still has no feeling because of the nerve damage.
I find, too often, that words are so inadequate in expressing what I want to say. I said a quiet “Thank You” to Frank.
I think of Frank often and offer a prayer on days like today, the Fourth of July. So I’m thankful for Frank, and for every person who has fought to keep this country free and safe. What a great honor it was to meet Frank, a true hero. What a great honor it is to live in this country.