After about two hours I noticed parachute wings tattooed on his right forearm. I leaned over and said “Airborne,” and began a conversation. Quietly he mentioned that he was a WWII (504th Parachute Infantry Regiment), Korea, Laos and Vietnam veteran. In other words he was there on the ground for the entire history of US Airborne in its finest hours, on virtually every battlefield.
He was traveling with a daughter from the Charlottesville, Virginia area to Anchorage where another daughter owned a couple of lodges along the Iditarod trail. By the time we landed I had gotten the gist of his service in the course of our extended conversation. As chance would have it, he had told the outlines of his life story to one of the few Americans who understood it in its entirety.
As we deplaned I asked his name; he said “Schmidt,” emphasizing that the family was Danish origin not German. I silently committed myself to learning more about who he was, obtaining the details of his apparently astonishing odyssey.