With all the excitement and fanfare surrounding the Inauguration in Washington, DC, you could not imagine that another story would come along and completely overshadow it. But that's exactly what happened, thanks to a man named Chesley Sullenberger from Danville, Califronia. Who?-- you would have said a week ago. Today "Sully" is a household name!
Capt. Sullenberger is the U.S. Airways pilot who successfully landed his crippled jetliner on the Hudson River in New York on Thursday, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Sullenberger and I, coincidentally, live in the same town. I have known his wife Lorrie for a number of years, from some community activities. I have never met "Sully," but can't wait for the opportunity to shake his sure and steady hand.
I was at there home for a brief visit today and met Sullenberger's daughters Katie and Kelly. Lorrie and I spoke for a few minutes, off-the-record, so I can't quote her here. But let me just say she and the girls are very happy, proud and excited. They are doing well despite the onslaught of media outside the family home. Danville is a very neighborly place and they are getting great support from the community.
"This man is an American hero, and the town will honor him as such," Mayor Newell Arnerich told me Friday night from Washington, DC, where the Mayor was attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
This is a story America needs right now. We are hungry for heroes. We want genuine leadership, whether it's in Congress, the corporate boardroom, or on our local PTA. While we tend to put so much hope on our politicians, and are often disappointed, the real heroes usually come from Main Street and not Pennsylvania Avenue. Heroism always comes from a service-above-self attitude; it comes when someone reaches into their heart, soul and gut to go the extra mile; it comes from surviving despite all odds.
Ironically, this is not the first time a man from our area made headlines from an aviation incident near New York City. Tom Burnett of San Ramon, the community that adjoins Danville, died a hero on September 11, 2001. Tom was one of the passengers who led the revolt against the terrorists on United Flight 93, bound from Newark to San Francisco. Tom and the other brave passengers fought with the terrorists, and the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Experts are convinced that had they not done so, Flight 93 would have been intentionally crashed into the U.S. Capitol or White House.
So, once again, our community has a national hero we can all embrace. My friend Faran Shojaie added this post on Facebook today: "Seems like Danville is the city of Heroes... Tom Burnett who was the leader of the group that brought the plane down on September 11th was also from Danville...."
I laughed today when Lorrie Sullenberger recalled the first time that she and I worked together. I was emcee for the "Christmas Tree Lighting" in neighboring Alamo, Califronia. Lorrie was Mrs. Santa Claus. At the eleventh hour our "Santa Claus" either got sick or quit, but we had a last minute substitution who was at none of the rehearsals. We had to shepherd the most befuddled and reluctant "St. Nick" you've ever seen onto the stage, but he was a trooper and the kids loved it. We thought we had really "saved the day" and were "heroes" to the kids.
Today Lorrie and I laughed at that fun memory, knowing full well, it was nothing by comparison to what her brave, heroic husband did this week.
God Bless Chesley Sullenberger. We need more heroes just like him! Our prayers and thanks go out to all the other crew members, brave passengers and rescuers who made this "America's Story!" at a time when we really need it!
I am headed to Washington, DC Saturday night and will be on the ground with Inaugural blogging by Sunday. Please check back at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.