I had the honor of speaking at a men’s breakfast this morning. At the table I was eating at, I struck up a conversation with an elderly gentlemen named Ewald, whom I discovered flew fighter jets in the Air Force. I asked him why he decided to join the Air Force in particular. I expected to hear either “I wanted an education” or “I wanted to save the world” type things. But he didn’t really specify any major intentions, just that after he graduated from high school, he decided to enlist.
His original plan was to get into the Coast Artillery, as he called it. So, he traveled to a military base in Indianapolis and was there for about a week waiting for all the men ahead of him to be processed. Eventually, all of the Coast Artillery positions were filled. He was disappointed, but a recruiter asked him and a buddy if they’d like to be in the Air Force. Ewald thought that you had to have a college degree to in order to get into the Air Force, but the recruiter said no, and then asked where they’d like to be stationed. Their choices were Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines, and a few other places overseas.
The wide-eyed young men chose a stop in Hawaii, which is exactly where they were during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
So here I am, almost 28 years old, preparing to entertain a group of mostly retired men, hoping to say something mildly relevant, and I’m completely blown away. I want to know more, wishing I could give my microphone to him. I wanted to tell him how much I respected him, and what he and his fellow men have done for our country. I felt like it would be appropriate to bow down and say, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!” Just like in Wayne’s World.
I managed to weakly ask if he had seen the movie Pearl Harbor and if he thought it was pretty realistic, or more “Hollywood”. “Hollywood”, he said, “but Saving Private Ryan, that was pretty good.”
It never ceases to amaze me the wealth of stories people carry around with them everyday. And it amazes me how life unfolds, where decisions and consequences are stirred together with fate and irony.
Ewald was pretty reserved and humble about his war stories, probably because they’re not as glamourous and tidy as Hollywood would have us believe. I should have asked Ewald more specifically why he really got into the military. Perhaps he saw it as the best opportunity to make something of himself, or maybe his young spirit urged him to make a difference in the world.
In any case, I am struck by the mystery that even though we don’t always set out to be heroes, sometimes life has a strange way of presenting us the opportunity to become one.