This week (March 29, to be exact), our nation honors those armed services personnel who served during the war in Vietnam on National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The commemoration of National Vietnam War Veterans Day unites Americans to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, and was officially recognized through the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, signed into law by 45th U.S. President Donald J. Trump, designating every March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
March 29 was chosen to be observed in perpetuity, as March 29, 1973, was the day United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was disestablished and also the day the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam. In addition, on and around this same day Hanoi released the last of its acknowledged prisoners of war.
I came across a story this week told by one of the millions who served. Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Viet Cong prison.
He survived the ordeal and went on to lecture on lessons learned from his experience.
One day, Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, and a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that,” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”
Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man. “I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers,” Plumb said. “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 just a sailor.”
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor must have spent at a long wooden table in the belly of the ship, carefully folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.
Now Plumb asks his audiences with whom he shares, “Who’s packing your parachute?” Each of us has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb tells listeners that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory — he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He needed all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes in the daily challenges of our lives, we miss what is important. Maybe we forget or fail to say “hello,” “please,” or “thank you,” congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason.
The apostle Paul shared his thoughts on how we are to treat and respond to others when he writes, ”Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” (Colossians 3:12-14).
This week, we would do well to seek out those people who pack our parachutes, as well as take time to look for opportunities to pack someone else’s parachute along our way.