I recently completed a journey that was long overdue. It has been 37 years since I saw someone that had a significant impact on my life. A phone call, card or e-mail seemed so inadequate so I decided to ride my BMW motorcycle 18 hours to Madisonville, Kentucky to visit him for a few short hours.
This journey actually began in 1979 when I was approaching the final year of my United States Air Force enlistment. I had been stationed at the Tactical Air Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base when I was given orders to spend my final year at a remote assignment at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.
I was settled into a wonderful and comfortable life and being sent to South Korea under far more harsh conditions didn’t seem positive on any level. That changed as soon as I arrived in South Korea and met Master Sergeant Jim Lantrip. Although small in stature, he was huge in spirit and personality and made an immediate impression on me.
We shared the same job in the Air Force and spent time performing those responsibilities. He led by example and if there was a skirmish, he was the first to depart and run toward the action. His natural leadership ability inspired everyone to follow him…no questions asked.
He also became my martial arts instruction. He was an Olympic caliber judo champion and is the toughest person I have ever met, but with a quiet and unassuming demeanor. If you were ever in a fight you wanted him on your side.
Once his duty assignment was complete in South Korea he returned to the United States to finish his USAF career. I was discharged from the Air Force in 1980 and we went on with our lives…but his spirit never left me.
When I faced my biggest challenges I looked to him and the example he taught me and so many others. He instilled in me a belief that I could handle anything and should never back down from a challenge or adversity. I received my spirit for chasing big dreams and major challenges from him.
After I reconnected with him recently I shared this with him. I’m not sure he believed me and I didn’t sense I was very persuasive so I decided I needed to see him in person.
I finally had a weekend without commitments so I notified him that I would be riding my motorcycle to Kentucky for a quick visit. As I rode through Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky, I reflected on every moment I shared with him and how I would convey the impact he had on my life.
But first, I had to contend with extreme weather conditions as I rode through torrential rain in my home state of West Virginia. I contemplated getting a hotel as the conditions made seeing the highway difficult. But I had business at hand and a very tight timeline. I learned the following day that 23 West Virginian’s lost their lives due to flooding that resulted from the storm.
I was 3 hours from Jim’s house when I departed Lexington, Kentucky. The sun was just rising and the fog was lifting as I rode past Manchester Farm.
Several jockeys were already on the track warming up their young thoroughbreds. I sensed it was going to be a special day. With 200 miles remaining I enjoyed the Blue Grass Parkway entirely by myself. The motor of the BMW was humming perfectly and I was finding it difficult containing my emotions.
When I pulled into Jim’s driveway he was waiting for me. He was wearing his Air Force shirt and I immediately felt the past 37 years completely disappear. I quickly removed my helmet, shook his hand and embraced him. The power of that moment truly is indescribable. I met his wonderful wife, Peggy, and we caught up before heading to breakfast with several of his friends.
Although I had been on my motorcycle for 18 hours we couldn’t wait to share a ride together. Temperatures were soaring into the 90’s but I wanted to explore western Kentucky. We rode a ferry across the Ohio River and into Illinois, not too far from my birthplace in Carmi, Illinois.
We were finally alone and enjoyed a wonderful dinner together that evening. It was the perfect time to share my feelings about the impact he had on me. He taught me the value of hard work, discipline, determination and discipline. I can only hope that he realizes that I am just one of so many that have been inspired by his example. True to form, he mentioned he didn’t realize he was having such an impact on others.
Yes, it took quite an effort to make this journey. But any journey where you are expressing gratitude to someone so special…is worth every moment!