The Banquet

by B. Mike Bunge
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

The Banquet

The yearly “safety awards” banquet was this spring. I’ve been to these events before, but never to speak. I was asked to speak on behalf of my friendship with James, and how he had touched my life. He was a long-time businessman in the construction field in Oklahoma City, and a close friend of the supply company sponsoring the banquet. I was standing at the podium looking out at all the people, and all I could do was think of him. My eyes caught those standing in the rear. They were the policemen, the firemen, and paramedics. Outside, I could see the fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances, along with the police helicopter.

I began my story telling of a friend that I met when I was a young man just out of the military and college. That was over forty years ago. James had given me my very first job in construction. Forty-some years later, we were still friends. But long ago, when I was just an “upstart” in the construction field, I was with him on one of the projects we were doing. We had scaffolding set up some sixty feet in the air in order to put the acoustical ceilings in at a church being built in Enid, Oklahoma. Then something happened in a flash: the scaffold tower began to lean and started to topple over. There was a man standing in its direct path. No words were said. Only movement! Movement that was so fast it was like a blur. James jumped and ran to that man and pushed him as hard as he could.

The tower came tumbling down and crashed to the concrete floor below. That falling tower had clipped James’ arm, but luckily he was clear of the impact. Ray, the man James saved, was a dear friend to both of us for years to come. There were many times that I wanted to tell everyone the story of how he saved Ray, but James caught my eye and stopped me without saying a word. He was a HERO and I wanted to shout it out to the world. But I couldn’t. James would not allow it.

Some people react to danger differently from others. Putting yourself in harm’s way can be foolish, stupid or heroic. The uniformed civil servants of this country are heroes. Not just my hero, but America’s heroes. They will always stand tall in my eyes. Just like my friend James.

At the closing of the banquet, the smiles and the handshakes of the emergency personnel said it all. James died last October, and it was time to tell his story. The banquet was just an evening, but that lone event of what my friend did will live in my heart forever.

Originally published as HeroicStories #70 on Oct 12, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

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