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April 1, 2013

I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you up front who the old man is.
Suffice to say that he was an American hero who rose up from
average American beginnings. He originated in an “Everyday” life and
became an Everyday Hero. I want to thank Max Lucado, who wrote
about this month’s Everyday Hero in his book, “In The Eye of the
Storm.” I highly recommend this book to you.

“It happened every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun
resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the blue ocean.
Old Ed came strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched
in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp. Ed walks out to the end of
the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow
of the sun is a golden bronze now.

Everybody’s gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out
on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts…and his bucket
of shrimp.

Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a thousand
white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward
that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier.

Before long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings
fluttering and flapping wildly. Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the
hungry birds. As he does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say
with a smile, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’

In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn’t leave.

He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time
and place.

When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach,
a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the
stairs, and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way
down to the end of the beach and on home.

If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the
water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck,’ as my dad used to say.
Or, ‘a guy who’s a sandwich shy of a picnic,’ as my kids might say. To
onlookers, he’s just another old codger, lost in his own weird world,
feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.

To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty.
They can seem altogether unimportant …. maybe even a lot of nonsense.

Old folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and Busters.
Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida .

That’s too bad. They’d do well to know him better.
His full name: Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero back in
World War II. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-
member crew went down.Miraculously, all the men
survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft.

Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters
of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all,
they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water.
They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where
they were. They needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional
service and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back
and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could
hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.

Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap.
It was a seagull!

Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his
next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he
managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and
he and his starving crew made a meal – a very slight meal for eight
men – of it. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they
caught fish, which gave them food and more bait…….and the cycle
continued. With that simple survival technique, they were able to
endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued (after
24 days at sea…).

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never
forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull. And he never
stopped saying, ‘Thank you.’ That’s why almost every Friday night he
would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a
heart full of gratitude.”

Eddie Rickenbacker went on to perform heroic feats. He served his country
and the cause of freedom. And all because one lone seagull made the ultimate
sacrifice. I hope, the next time you are near the water and you hear the raucous
call of a seagull, you will remember Eddie Rickenbacker . . . and that seagull that
saved eight men’s lives.

Joseph Badal is the author of five thrillers, including Shell Game.  His next thriller, The Lone Wolf Agenda, will be released in May 2013 in print and ebook formats.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 13, 2013 4:26 pm

    This is a great story, Joe. I was only after you revealed old Ed’s last name that I remembered seeing it previously. It’s so nice to hear about someone who understands and practices gratitude. We all have so much to be grateful about, and yet we rarely say “thank you” to the people and creatures to whom so much is owed. So today, I’ll say, “Thank you, Joe Badal, for bringing us these wonderful stories, and for writing your entertaining and informative books. I’m grateful to you.”

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