We were walking from backstage to the exit in a long large hallway after a great speech by General Yeager to a very receptive, large, filled to capacity audience at the Museum of Flight.
I was surprised and glad no one had realized this would be our exit route. Except one guy. He was walking towards us…. a little warily.
As he approached, Chuck clearly knew him and greeted him warmly. The fellow was relieved. He was about Chuck’s age. They chatted about various things after which the fellow left, clearly lighter than when he approached.
Chuck then told me the story:
During World War II, 1944, this fellow, a member of Chuck Yeager’s squadron, had come back from his second mission and flat out said he couldn’t hack it.
Admitting this was sacrilege. Many pilots were scared but didn’t admit it even to themselves. And certainly no one said they wanted to go home before their 60 missions were up. Almost all the pilots shunned this guy – afraid his fear would rub off and overwhelm them or that they would be tainted with the same brush or….
Captain Chuck Yeager.
He appreciated that this guy was brave to admit his fear, his shortcomings – and risk being shunned or even court-martialed. But to do otherwise, to continue to go on sorties, could get others in his formation or group killed.
And Chuck was not afraid to stand up and say this.
See this guy didn’t want to unenlist or run away. He wanted to contribute but as an instructor. Clearly he had been good enough to be selected as a fighter pilot. He just couldn’t hack real combat. So that’s what he did – he returned stateside and became an instructor pilot.
And that was the guy who had warily walked towards us wondering if Chuck would look at him in shame.
And that was the guy who, after talking to Chuck 60 years later, was light on his feet when he walked away.