Decades ago, when I received a fateful call that my mother might not survive a critical surgery, my heart stopped. I was serving as a U.S. Navy diver, and like most enlisted men and women, I did not have the money to buy an airplane ticket home. I had no idea what I was going to do, but my eyes misted when I thought of how I’d feel if my mother passed away and I wasn't there to say goodbye. I just had to find a way to get home.
I begged and borrowed from everyone I knew, but still didn't have enough for a ticket. Then I received the most unexpected call. An organization dedicated to helping veterans had heard about my plight and wanted to help. They took up a collection from donors and helped me find a way home. Fortunately, my mother pulled through and lived many more years, but I truly believe that having my sister and I there by her side helped to lift my mother’s spirits and improve her will to survive. I was so thankful that I made a vow to someday help another veteran see his or her parents or loved ones during a time of need. I’m honored to have been afforded the opportunity to keep that promise.
In November 2014, as a board director for the Us4Warriors Foundation, I helped manage the Veterans Book Fair aboard the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, Calif. At this event, dozens of New York Times bestselling authors dedicated their time to sign books for veterans. To help support the event, Alaska Airlines donated four roundtrip airline tickets. One month later, those tickets made all the difference in the world to a U.S. Marine in need.
Corporal Paul Janes, a U.S. Marine with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion stationed at Camp Pendleton, received the same kind of shocking news that I had years earlier: his father had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and was not expected to survive the holidays. Janes was desperate to find a way home during the Christmas holidays to see his father, perhaps for the last time. Friends and relatives helped just enough to fly his family home, but Janes still lacked the funds for his own ticket. He had exhausted every option and his heart was heavy with the fear that his father would pass before he could say goodbye. Then he got the call he’d been praying for.
Retired Marine Chris Yates, base commander for the Vista, California, American Legion and board director for the Us4Warriors Foundation, had heard about his fellow Marine’s situation. He called Janes and offered him a roundtrip ticket home to see his father. With tears streaming down his face, it was a full minute before Janes could find his voice to accept the offer.
At a formal ceremony on Dec. 20, at the Vista American Legion post, I was given the special opportunity to present Cpl. Paul Janes with a voucher for a ticket to fly home, courtesy of the donation provided by Alaska Airlines. Also in attendance was the Us4Warriors Foundation president and former San Diego County veteran of the year, Anthony Stewart. Thankfully, Alaska Airlines customer service agent, Sarah Blanchard, was also on hand. Normally it might take a few days to convert the voucher into an actual ticket, but she knew just who to call and what to say to take care of it quickly over the phone.
Thanks to the generosity of Alaska Airlines and the Us4Warriors Foundation, Janes flew home to Kansas City to join his family and see his father one last time. In these troubled times, when all of us are worried about terrorism, jobs, world events and our families, it’s nice to know that some companies—and especially the people who work for them—still care about others. As a veteran, I recall a time when my military haircut invoked ridicule and hatred. I’m thankful that most Americans today honor and respect the sacrifices made by the brave men and women serving our country. Thank you, Alaska Airlines, for giving back to those who have given so much to us.
William Craig Reed is a former U.S. Navy Diver and the New York Times bestselling author of Cold War III: How the U.S. Navy can Defeat Putin and Halt Climate Change and Red November: Inside the Secret U.S. – Soviet Submarine War. He is also a board director for the Us4Warriors Foundation, dedicated to helping veterans and their families.