You know, people are beautiful, crazy things. When I went back to camp to catch some sleep the night that we finally got the airfield moving at night, a Filipino man called out to me as I walked by. “Hey, Sir!”
He was squatting on the concrete, with his wife and their littlest baby squatting next to him, and six or eight little dark eyed chitlins squatting all in a row behind him, along with some aunties or big sisters or some such relative.
“Hey Sir,” he said again and gestured to the line behind him. He was hopelessly at the back of the crowd, and there was no way he was getting on an airplane tonight. But he had seen lines of people being moved to the airplanes, and he had figured out what we were doing and had separated his family and lined them all up in a row, ready to go.
“Wow,” I said, “All lined up?”
He nodded and smiled hopefully and his wife and babies all looked up at me with big, dark, hopeful eyes that just made me feel like the biggest ogre on the planet for not getting them out right away. (Okay, so I am a sucker for little brown babies with big brown eyes. So sue me.)
What a leader! What a man! I could see that he truly cared about his family, and keeping them together and making sure they were safe was the most important thing to him. They trusted him. They squatted in line behind him, one behind the other, keeping quiet and still and cheerful among the chaos all around them.
What I would not have given to move them right to the front of the line, right then! But I could not. That would have caused a riot, in all likelihood, and that would have shut down loading operations. I had to smile and say, “Good for you. Hang in there,” and walk away.
When I went back again the next day, they were still squatting there, all lined up, and he smiled at me hopefully again. He was still cheerful, but he looked worn out. Other people were still in line ahead of him. I had to get Marilee’s people out, because I had promised, and I owed her. He watched that plane leave sadly, and moved his family into the next spot.
After that I was no longer running the airfield. The Marines had taken over now and I had to go do other things. As I left for the last time, he smiled at me, still hopefully, but with a bit more fear in his eyes. All I could do was point to the only seven rows of people still in front of him, count them out and smile encouragingly, and then walk away.
He was able to get his family out later that afternoon, I think, because there were several planes in later that day, and I didn’t see him again.
Blessings upon him and his family.