Getting Dad to talk about his time in Vietnam often proved difficult. I’d find various ways to ask questions and he’d always avoid them by changing the topic. Then, one afternoon, while we were on the river fishing, I finally broke through.
I said, “Dad, I just have to know…tell me about Vietnam. What did you do?”
He turned the chair in the front of the boat around and faced me with his fishing rod still in hand.
He responded, “Imagine being in an airplane over a war zone. You can hear bullets hitting the side of your plane. The pilot is trying to stay high and avoid enemy fire. But my job? The job of the plane I was on?”
He paused briefly, and then continued…
“We’d be alerted that another plane was shot down. We’d find the nearest landing area, go in, land the plane, get out, strip as much electrical equipment as possible out of the crashed plane and then carry it back to our plane.”
I leaned in with every detail…
Dad went on, “The pilot would take off, sometimes under gunfire, and while we were in the air, me and my crew would try to fix the electronics of the plane that had been shot down. I’ve heard bullets hit the side of a plane. I’ve heard bombs explode. I’ve felt the sound of bombs going off against my chest.”
I’m sure my eyes were bulging. I replied, “Wow. I mean…wow! Anything else?”
Dad quipped, “There’s a lot more, but we won’t talk about it.”
And with that, he went back to fishing.
I was left with so many questions:
Was he scared?
Did he want to quit?
How did he control his fears?
Then Dad said, “It was my job. I had given my word.”
There it was. Dad was a man of his word. He did the job and did it to the best of his ability. He knew that others depended on him. His example set the tone for others on the plane. If Jack [my Dad] was afraid, then everyone else would be afraid.
The lessons from this story are many. As both a son and a leader, they are all important for me, but the one that stands out the most is the importance of being a person of your word. Dad committed to do a job and he did it to the best of his ability, even when bullets riddled the side of an airplane.
Dad’s integrity didn’t depend on the severity of the situation. His word was his bond and nothing broke it.
Leaders, you can’t quit. Even if the going gets overwhelming, you can’t quit. Your daily presence sets the tone and spreads belief and hope. When the bullets start to fly, stand tall.
That’s when your team needs you the most. Don’t flinch in the fight. Be the leader you wish you had. Be the leader your team needs you to be. Be like Dad.
Do that and you’ll be on the path to leadership endurance.
Brian Sanders serves as Executive Vice President of Positive Alternative Radio. He regularly writes and speaks on leadership topics. His new book, “Leadership Endurance,” can be purchased HERE.