As I write this, we are in the midst of celebrating Memorial Day weekend 2011. I can't help but be reflective of the sacrifices of our veterans in order for us to be free. I have come to learn in my life that freedom is not free, in fact it is costly.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, I was the Resident Manager of a 744 all suite hotel in Miami, Florida during an interesting time in our country's history, the late 60's and early 70's. In addition to hosting the major candidates of both the Democratic and Republican party's national conventions in 1972 [see earlier blog entitled "The best room in the house"], and having a red phone on my desk which went straight to the White House [see earlier blog entitled "Answer the phone"], our hotel played a major role in the re-indoctrination process following the release of the U.S. POW's at the end of the Vietnam war.
The "red phone" rang in early March of 1973. The coordinator at the other end asked if I could do our country a favor. Of course I said yes, wouldn't you? He said he was in charge of transporting some American POW's back to the U.S. and that he wanted them to have a period of re-indoctrination back into civilian life before they were released to visit with their families. Since I had recently completed my 6 year military stint in the USMCR, he asked if I could gather some trusted staff and friends to play "host" to the recently released former prisoners of war. He said the assignment would include some engaging conversation, some recreation [golf], and some dining and social event gatherings.
With only a few days notice my staff and I immediately went into "emergency event" mode. For you non hoteliers, that means "do everything you possibly can to avoid a major crisis while pulling off the nearly impossible" mode.
The first night we hosted a cocktail party out at the large pool deck which surrounded our salt water pool [there was a fresh water one as well]. Things appeared to be going well as the former POW's enjoyed specially prepared "light on the alcohol" cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Then, all of a sudden all heck broke loose as a gigantic 747 airplane filled the sky which had just taken off from Miami airport took a flight path which led it to fly directly over the hotel at a climbing but still lower than usual altitude. As its engines roared overhead, I heard shouts of "it's a plane"! I then couldn't believe my eyes as almost all 22 of our honored guests dropped glasses, plates, food and whatever else they were carrying at the moment and dove under the tables and chairs which surrounded the pool deck.
I was certain that we had thought of everything, the music, the specially prepared food and drinks, the hand-picked guest list, the casual conversation rehearsal, the "private party" atmosphere but not this.
Unbeknownst to us, the former POW's were apparently quite used to this routine and practiced it regularly whenever unidentified aircraft flew over their prison camp. Amidst a few muffled chuckles they gathered themselves. Each wore a rather sheepish and somewhat embarrassed facial expression as everyone tried their best to get things back to a normal, less awkward state.
Well, all of our guests survived. The rest of the evening and the following two days were rather uneventful and our VIP guests left the hotel having had a slight taste of how the world had changed during their time in captivity. Are you thankful for your freedom?