I was standing at the departure gate in Detroit last Saturday - Oh'dark early - looking at the weather radar online when I noticed a slightly built, older gentleman preparing to board. He was wearing a leather flight jacket and a Tuskegee Airman ballcap. I couldn't hold myself back.
I walked over and introduced myself. Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson introduced himself as he shook my hand with a grip that belied his years. Though I knew he had to be in his mid-eighties (actually 88), he looked and spoke like a man twenty years his junior. I thanked him for his service and told him what an honor it was to have him on board. True to the form of men of his character, he brushed aside any notion of being special - but I knew otherwise - and I would learn much more when I returned home and Googled his name.
As he boarded, the agent asked me what was so special about the gentleman. I gave the briefest of explanation about the Tuskegee Airmen and she kindly asked, "Would you like me to upgrade him to first class?"
When I walked down the jetbridge and handed the Colonel his new boarding pass, he let out with, "Holy Toledo!" He was genuinely touched.
I was able to chat briefly with Colonel Jefferson at DFW. He was on his way to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the space shuttle along with a group of his peers.
As I mentioned, I already knew he was a hero - fighting an enemy on two fronts - but I had no idea until I returned home. On his eighteenth mission, he was shot down and spent the last 9 months of the war as a POW of the Nazis.
Sometimes getting people from A to B has its special perks.
You might enjoy the short clip of the Colonel at the link below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAZucEsYvq4