Thursday, June 25, 2009
A Hero Among Us
One definition of the word "hero" is described as any man who is admired for his courage, nobility, or exploits in war. It is not often that a person gets to meet a genuine American hero. This fantastic moment happened to me eight years ago. My son was in the Boy Scouts at that time. Each year, the troop would hold a Chinese auction to raise funds for themselves. This particular year, 2001, the tragedy of September 11th propelled the troop to not only raise money for their own group but for local families who lost loved ones.
I started contacting many companies, foundations and celebrities for donations to be included in the auction. The response was tremendous. One celebrity I got in touch with was Lt. Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski. For those of you who are not familiar with Gabreski, he was the top American Ace pilot in World War II. A pilot becomes an Ace with "five" kills, enemy planes shot down. Gabreski scored 28 kills, the most ever for an American pilot. After the war, he worked in the aviation industry and was president of the Long Island Railroad. He was married for 48 years and had nine children. They made their home in Dix Hills on Long Island. His wife died in an automobile accident in 1993.
Having known about the great exploits of this American icon, I decided to call him to see if he could donate something for our auction. To my surprise, he answered the phone himself and asked me if I could stop by his home to pick up a signed lithograph. "Absolutely Mr. Gabreski, I will be there shortly!!" I replied. So I drove from my home in Lake Ronkonkoma to his home in Dix Hills. I knocked on the door and an older, fragile gentleman opened it. There before me was "Gabby" Gabreski.
He shook my hand, welcomed me and said to come inside. The home was a cozy family home but seemed to be only inhabited by the great but humble Gabreski. He moved slow and told me he was not well, having just been in the hospital.
From the dining room table, he handed me a rolled up lithograph that depicted "Gabby" downing an enemy aircraft in a WWII dogfight. I thanked him for this rare and beautiful piece of art that I knew would bring in a lot of money at the auction.
Before I left, Gabreski asked me if I could do him a favor and give him a jump start in his car. The battery had died.
"It would be my pleasure Mr. Gabreski". We went outside. His car was in the garage. With him behind the wheel, I pushed the car into the open. I found jumping cables in the garage, pulled my car alongside his and jump started his vehicle within minutes. He was very happy. Before I left, I gave him one of my business cards. "If you ever need help with anything at all, I only work a few miles away in Melville. Please give me a ring and I will be here in a flash!". He smiled, shook my hand, thanked me and said he surely would call. As I pulled away, he was still sitting in his running car.
Less than 3 months later, just before the auction, Gabreski passed away on January 31, 2002. He had just turned 83.
The auction was a huge success. One of the prime items was the signed litho from the late, great Francis Gabreski.
The years have passed. Boy Scouts are a pleasant memory. And that brief moment in time when I got to meet a true American hero is a treasured moment that will forever be etched in my memories.
For more information on Lt. Col. Francis Gabreski, please see: