Charles Poland Jr., An American of whom you could be proud.


We forget important people too quickly these days. Charles Poland Jr. is a person who should not be forgotten, On the outside, his life story was that of a common man. Inside, he possessed an uncommon integrity and courage. It was these exact qualities which cost him his life. There are plenty of good people in our country, but extraordinary acts of selfless courage are not common, and it is well worth taking a few minutes to think of this man and consider the kind of human being he was.

If his name doesn’t ring a bell, let me refresh your memory. Six months ago, a psychopath in Alabama boarded the school bus this man was driving and demanded at gun point that he be given two children. Mr. Poland blocked the man and opened the emergency exit. He actually was acquainted with the gunman and knew how dangerous he was. Driving other people’s children to school is not considered a lucrative nor important job in a money driven society, but by all accounts, Mr.Poland took this task seriously. The only way that a psychopath was going to take a kid off his bus was over his dead body. For this exact sacrifice, the gunman got only one child, 21 got away.

You can read a few words on Mr. Poland’s life in this link to a NYT story:

The FBI released information today on the resulting stand-off where the child was freed a week later. The FBI killed the psychopath in his bunker. Included in the information was tapes of things the gunman had said to hostage negotiators. The man was consumed with antigovernment venom, and had a long litany of complaints that he felt justified any act he wanted to take. His claims of government evil were stronger than anything I could remember hearing in the first 25 years of my life. Today, you can read and hear things just like it any time you like on the Internet.

Out of coincidence, one of my acquaintances on FB went on a giant tirade in capital letters today, predicting a “Nazi” takeover of America’s social institutions. I had just heard the FBI tapes of the gunman in the bunker, and let me say that the words on Facebook were essentially the same story.

The guy in the bunker was clearly mentally ill, and nothing in his life had really ever functioned. It isn’t an excuse, and I am okay with the FBI killing him. However, the guy with the same tune on Facebook is highly educated, owns a Mooney, travels in it, and does many things. He has many blessings, but you never hear that. I have no explanation.

On Easter I wrote this story: A thought on Easter…. contrasting the thankfulness of a homeless man with the ingratitude of some of the people I meet at airshows.  A few days ago, I wrote the story on little Balsa Planes. At the center of it is our local Cub Scout Master Greg. I made a joke about being afraid to decline to be the Pack’s guest. Here is the truth: I did it because I have enormous respect for Greg. He is tired, he works long hours, he has a child who needs a lifetime of special care, and yet he still is the Scout Master for one reason: These boys need one, and no one else was doing it. These are not kids from private schools and gated communities. These are kids who really need scouting. The depth of my respect for men like Greg is in direct contrast to anyone who is irate about issues, but the extent of their “actions” is to email a “forward” on the Internet. I do not know how Greg votes, what church he belongs to, nor any of the other things about him which extremists judge others by. It isn’t my business nor concern. Anyone can tell he is a man of values by his actions, a more reliable indicator than things people forward on Facebook.

On the way to Oshkosh this year, I am going to take a detour through Alabama, to pay a quiet visit to Mr. Poland’s town. I would like to go alone, park out of anyone’s way, and find a quiet spot to sit for a few hours. While I am there, I will think of Mr. Poland and his kind of Americans. I will ask the same question that Michener did at the end of The Bridges at Toko-ri….. “Where do we get such men?”  -ww.

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