I left Vietnam in April of 1970 on a commercial airliner packed with military personnel, most of whom had finished their combat tours and were returning home. Somewhere over the North Pole, on a flight that took 14 hours to complete, the temperature in the plane dropped so low that I started shaking and couldn’t stop. I quieted my chattering teeth by keeping my jaws clenched shut, and curled up into the tightest ball I could manage in a seat considerably scaled down in order to accommodate more passengers. Seat width and leg room were severely reduced, and when the seat ahead was fully laid back, getting into and out of of my seat was a real chore.
I was a passenger on a commercial airliner, one of a fleet leased by the U.S. military to ferry personnel to and from Vietnam during our prolonged war in that country. Our flight from Da Nang, South Vietnam would take us over the North Pole and on to Los Angeles’ International Airport.
Spring was in full bloom in the United States, but the season was a hard cold winter over the North Pole. When I first began to feel the cold, I asked a flight attendant for a blanket. She said that she would be right back with a blanket, but after a considerable amount of time passed, she had not returned, and I noticed that blankets were being passed out up and down the rows of seats.
The same attendant came by and I reminded her of my request. She apologized nicely, saying that she had been busy and had forgotten my request, and told me she would return shortly with the blanket. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep—it isn’t easy to sleep when one is shivering violently. Another long interval of time passed and she finally returned, minus the blanket. She again apologized nicely, but this time she told me there were no more blankets, that the aircraft’s supply of blankets had all been handed out to other passengers. A quick look around showed that in my immediate area I was the only passenger without a blanket. Apparently they were handed out while I was trying to sleep.
My three-time loser of a flight attendant was young and attractive, attributes that would have, in a normal situation, prevented me from voicing the comments that followed the news that I would not be—could not be—given a blanket. I won’t repeat what I said—Word Press has some rather stern restrictions on the use of vulgarities and some of the terms that I used, terms that I had accumulated over many years in military service, would probably not be well received.
I will only say that, had my verbal censure of the girl been a double-barreled shotgun, she would have received censure equal to being blasted with two full loads of double-ought buckshot, delivered at very close range. Any hunter can describe the terrible damage that would be caused by such loads.
Resigned to my fate—an unnatural fate of freezing solid at 40,000 feet over the North Pole while crammed into a baby seat in a commercial aircraft traveling at some 400 miles per hour—I curled up into a ball again, wrapped my arms around myself as fully and tightly as I could, and tried to sleep—in the words of Hamlet, I sought to sleep, perchance to dream, etc.
And I did sleep—to paraphrase Brother Dave Gardner’s words, I reached for the arms of Morpheus and fell into that somnolent state of glorious oblivion—I slept, and I dreamed.
I dreamed of being warm again. I dreamed that I was covered with something soft and furry, a cover with an aroma that combined the smell of budding roses and lilacs in bloom—an aroma superior to any of the world’s most expensive perfumes, with just a hint of chicken frying in my mother’s kitchen—no, scratch the fried chicken—that was an earlier dream, one that I had the night before I boarded the plane to begin the long journey home—I suppose some residual of that odor remained in my brain.
I know the suspense is gnawing at anyone reading this posting, so I will hold back no longer. While I slept, the flight attendant that failed to deliver a blanket after my repeated requests for one—far in advance of the time blankets began to be handed out to passengers—the flight attendant that I berated so forcefully and fiercely—yep, the same attractive woman that patiently endured my verbal onslaught on her professional conduct, had returned with a full length fur coat and gently placed it over my numb body, tucking it in as well as she could, considering my fetal pose.
The coat was probably hers, but she could have borrowed from another flight attendant—that point is moot. Regardless of the owner, that fur coat saved my sanity and possible my life. I quickly returned to that somnolent state of glorious oblivion and spent the rest of the night gamboling through Elysian fields with Bambi, Flower and Thumper—I awakened only after daylight filled the cabin.
I never saw the flight attendant again. The fur coat had been retrieved while I slept on like the proverbial baby, probably picked up by its owner after we left polar bear territory. I searched for that familiar face, but exited the aircraft after landing without an opportunity to thank her, and to apologize for my boorish behavior during the flight. She may have been busy in the galley or perhaps had business in the cockpit, if you catch my drift.
No matter where she was then and regardless of where she is now, I owe her my thanks for saving me from becoming a curled up block of ice—even though it was her fault for exposing me to such a potential ending.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.