Saturday, January 25, 2014

The legend of Lenny Skutnik

The image is in my mind, in the back somewhere. Early in our marriage, I find that my husband has this image firmly in his mind, too, because the Potomac river forms part of the borders between Maryland and Washington, D.C. where he grew up. He knows the story well.

Over the years, I expect to never hear about this amazing feat of heroism again, but no: it surfaces from time to time in unexpected places. It will not die. This man, Lenny Skutnik, represents something we feel that we should be, or know that we are (somewhere inside of us) or hope that we will someday become if the occasion presents itself. Perhaps we are simply frightened that we could fail, if tested. One never really knows until that moment arrives.
And of course Lenny Skutnik. Just before Reagan's 1982 speech Mr. Skutnik, a government worker, saw Air Florida Flight 90 go into the Potomac. As others watched from the banks of the frozen river, Mr. Skutnik threw off his coat, dived in and swam like a golden retriever to save passengers. The night of the speech he was up there in the gallery next to the first lady, and when Reagan pointed him out the chamber exploded. This nice, quiet man who'd gone uncelebrated all his professional life, and then one day circumstances came together and he showed that beneath the bureaucrat's clothing was the beating heart of a hero.
Noonan: The Sleepiness of a Hollow Legend - The State of the Union is a grand tradition—but only if people are listening.

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