Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Chance Encounter

On June 30, 2010, I boarded American Airlines flight 1629 in Dallas, Texas en route to San Diego, California.

I was seated next to the aisle. The two seats directly across were empty until the last passengers boarded. A distinguished looking Mexican-American man made his way toward the empty seats. He appeared to be in his sixties, a thin physique, smartly dressed in casual attire, salt and pepper mustache, and the same coloration of hair extending below his white ball cap.

I noticed the insignias on the cap and when he settled into the seat, I looked over to him and said, "Airborne!"  Without hesitation, the stranger responded with, "All the Way!"

These words "Airborne!" and "All the way!" are often exclaimed when one paratrooper meets another. The insignia on his cap was that of the 173rd Airborne Brigade along side a miniature Purple Heart Medal. He and I immediately started talking about our military service and combat tours in Vietnam, the dates (his was '67-'68), places, parachutist school, length of service, and our lives after the military. He continued his college education with the help of the G. I. Bill and became a lawyer in San Diego.

We enjoyed conversation off and on throughout the flight and exchanged email addresses. He encouraged me to attend the July 3rd parade on Coronado, which is across the San Diego Bay. He said he would be marching with other veterans and 70,000 people would likely attend it.

As Doreen, Jennifer, and I toured the city over the next few days, we spent one day in Balboa Park. We went into various museums, gardens, and saw other cultural venues. Our meandering stroll through the park led us to the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center at Inspiration Point.  We paid the entrance fee and began the self-guided tour. As I looked at the many displays, I came upon one of particular interest to me because it involved the Vietnam War. It included a full-sized mannequin clothed in an army dress uniform with ribbons, medals, and trousers bloused inside paratrooper boots. Beside this mannequin was a display cabinet filled with photos of a young soldier and his medals. One photo showed him in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound to his shoulder. The actual bullet was cleaned of his flesh and blood and laid beside his Purple Heart Medal. Additional combat paraphernalia was there regarding this hero. See the photos below and click to enlarge them for better viewing.

When I read the placards about this man, I realized it was the same person I sat beside on the flight 1629 from Dallas. I had no clue before that moment.  He is a prominent citizen and community leader in San Diego. Read some of his accomplishments in the photo. He came to the United States from Mexico at age 7, passed up an appointment to the USMA to join the military to serve in Vietnam, became a lawyer, and served on the San Diego school board, just to name a few.

I attended the parade on Coronado and spotted him marching smartly in the Color Guard of the San Diego All Airborne Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Association.  As he marched dress-right-dress with other veterans, he gripped with both hands the flag pole of the SD 173rd AirborneAssociation.  I learned later that he is currently serving as President of this group of veterans. 

The top picture is a commercial plane flying low over Balboa Park to land in San Diego. This happens every two minutes. The next picture is a view of San Diego from Coronado.

Have a good week!


At 7/26/2010 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the chances? Good story Mike Im listening > Take care and keep us posted Ron


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