Saying Thanks to a Real American Hero

I was all set this morning to write about the Middle East. On my way to an airport, where apparently I spend the majority of my time, I crafted in my mind an exceptionally urbane article about the very real potential for the Arab Spring to freeze out all those liberal, youth and genuinely moderate folks as the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups prove their ability to control elections and early stage political maneuvering.

Remember the initial heady days of the Spring?  Oh the joys of democracy and self determination...all those people under the thumb of various despots just yearning to be free and to express themselves. Turns out the only people really adept at seizing the moment with collective self expression are the Islamists.  From Tunisia to Morocco, Libya and most disturbingly Egypt,  there's a growing awareness amongst the initial leaders of the revolutions that they may be jumping from the fire into the frying pan.

Anyway, by the time I made my way through airport security, where incidentally the TSA people were professional and courteous, I was thoroughly depressed about where we're heading in the Middle East.  Suddenly my planned column seemed less an urbane commentary and more an obituary for the hoped for Arab democracies.

I sat staring at the departure monitor for a while... fascinated by the list but thinking that I miss the old fashioned departure signs with the letters that would flip constantly to spell out the different cities.  I was somewhere between Lisbon and London on the list when I noticed an old man sitting at the end of a row across from me.

There was nothing remarkable about him, he appeared to be about the same age as my father, who passed away a couple years ago at the age of 89.  My Pop was the best man I'll ever know and I miss him everyday.  The old man's demeanor, posture and style reminded me of Pop, in odd alternating waves of comfortable happiness and crushing sadness.

It took a minute or two to notice his baseball cap... it said 8th Air Force, WW II.

My Father signed on with the Army Air Corps before there was an Air Force and served throughout WW II, eventually finishing his military career as a Colonel, at which point he continued serving his country with the CIA.

I wandered over to this old man, put my hand out a bit awkwardly and said "Thank You."  He looked me straight in the eyes, his handshake was strong and purposeful.  He gestured for me to lean in since he couldn't speak loudly, and quietly said "B-17s."

I stood there for a moment, holding his hand and staring into his eyes. We talked briefly.  They called his flight and it was time to go.  The old man and I walked away in opposite directions.

We can talk about the Middle East next time.

Mike Baker is a former CIA covert operations officer. He is president of Diligence LLC, a global intelligence and security firm. Follow him on Twitter @MB_CompanyMan.