May 5, 2012. As we waited to board United flight 366 from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, we noticed the young man in a wheelchair. He had lost both of his legs above the knee, but looked strong. I was glad to see that the young woman with him looked attentive and affectionate.
That might have been the end of this chance encounter, but the flight attendants went above and beyond their job descriptions and learned more. They told us that Marine Corps Lance Corporal Adam Devine lost his legs December 28 when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded while he was on duty in Afghanistan and that he had been treated at Walter Reed Hospital. He and his wife Michelle were flying to Las Vegas for their first vacation ever, taking a break from his recovery work. Their parents were taking care of their 11-month-old daughter, making the trip more affordable.
First, the flight attendants dug into their purses to give the young couple some extra cash for their trip. Word spread quickly and soon $1000 had been transferred from grateful passengers and crew who wanted the couple to have a memorable first vacation.
How often do we get to know and thank those who serve on the front lines, many of whom put their lives at risk? The unsung heroes include soldiers like Adam who make great sacrifices. They also are flight attendants who take care for our safety and well being, public works crews who fix our broken water pipes in the dark of night, public safety and medical personnel who respond to emergencies, and teachers who educate our children.
After I arrived in Chicago, I met Luke Albrecht, another young Dad who teaches math in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. He told me that 95% of his middle school students come from families with an income below the poverty line. Yet, after 10 years of teaching in this tough environment, his enthusiasm for his chosen profession is palpable. “I am a teacher,” he said, explaining that teaching has become part of his identity. His former students often return to thank him when they graduate from high school or go on to college. His work has made a difference in their young lives.
It was just one day, but I will never forget the people I met on May 5. I hope they know how much we appreciate what they do.
May 6-12 is Public Service Recognition Week, a very good time to say, “Thank you” to one of our unsung heroes.