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A memorable trip to the airport

By David Levine of Fargo, N.D.

Once in a while, a memory that is so vivid, returns and may be re-lived. What follows is one of many in my lifetime.

My brother Steve had just finished a US Navy enlistment in Vietnam. On his return home to Minneapolis, he stopped to visit me and my family in Rapid City, South Dakota, where I was on assignment for Xerox Corporation.

We toured the Black Hills, including Lake Pactola, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore and the little bars scattered throughout. It was fun. Although Steve was 10 years younger, we hit if off just fine and he was great with our kids.

After several days, he understandably grew antsy and phoned to find air departures for Minneapolis.

The next day, all packed and ready, I drove him to the Rapid City Airport, parked the car and walked in to wait for the plane arriving from Denver on its way to the Twin Cities.

After getting coffees and some chocolate chip cookies, we sat down and I was interested in hearing about Vietnam, what he thought of the war and what he might have seen.

Almost his entire enlistment had been spent on the hospital ship, the USS Sanctuary, anchored off the ‘Nam coast. Helicopters came and went delivering wounded. It was messy. Fortunately, the Navy engine room job kept him in the ship’s bowels to ensure that everything top side was clicking correctly.

Finally, the arrival of his flight was announced as 10 minutes out.

We stood-up and I said to Steve, “Look at that guy over there leaning against the post. Isn’t that Johnny Cash?”

I motioned Steve to follow as I walked toward Cash and his wife, June.

I introduced myself, extended my hand and said, “Johnny, I’m not a country music fan. In fact, I prefer light jazz. But your recent album release, Folsom Prison Blues, grabbed me. In fact, I like all the songs on it.”

Cash, a big man, smiled from ear to ear and said, “That is probably as good a compliment as I’ve had. Especially coming from a jazz man.”

Johnny introduced his wife to Steve and I and explained they had just done a concert at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation nearby.

Meanwhile, their plane had arrived and passengers were deboarding down the wheel-up-stairs. We said goodbye and best wishes to the Cashes.

As we turned around in the terminal lobby, I recognized Korzak Ziolkowski, whose family had been working for years to chisel the Crazy Horse Memorial out of the mountainside in South Dakota.

We watched the Cashes walking to the plane. Then came the second big surprise of the day. Entering the terminal from the arriving flight was none other than actor Henry Fonda.

Extending a hand to meet him, was Ziolkowski. They embraced and it was apparent they were likely old friends. I never knew the reason for Fonda’s visit, but it makes sense he may have been looking for the right movie setting.

Interesting, isn’t it? I went to the airport, not knowing that anything interesting would happen, and in a manner of minutes I’m in the presence of two bright stars. Now that’s a memorable trip to the airport.

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