Vail Daily column: A veterans story: Faith, hope, heroism and leadership |

Vail Daily column: A veterans story: Faith, hope, heroism and leadership

With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving quickly coming upon us, we sometimes forget about another day of the year that sits between the two, Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

In honor of Veterans Day this year, I want to share with you the story of Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Milacek, his crew, and their amazing flight on May 8, 1970. Their story is the story of Flight 883.

Stay with me on this one, because even though the event took place more than 41 years ago, their story is real, and the story behind the story is even more incredible.

You can search the Internet and read all about Flight 883 in its entirety and I highly encourage you to do so. For now, I will just share the summary of the story, and then hopefully bring to life the faith, hope, heroism and leadership that make Lt. Col. Alan Milacek’s story so amazing. He was a captain in the Air Force at the time.

May 8, 1970, as they flew their 100th mission with Capt. Milacek in the pilot’s seat, their aircraft had a large portion of the right wing shot off. Aeronautical engineers testified that with so much wing missing, the pilot should not have been able to fly that aircraft, let alone land it safely. But somehow Capt. Milacek ‘righted’ the airplane, turned it away from enemy territory, flew back over the same enemy fire that shot off his wing, climbed over 9000 feet with limited power to barely get over the top of a mountain, flew the aircraft back to base with no fuel left in the tanks, and had to land the aircraft while exceeding the safety limits for speed when landing.

Oh, and he also disobeyed a direct order from a general to have the entire crew abandon the airplane and parachute to safety. The crew had an opportunity to do so, but Capt. Milacek could not, because no matter what they tried, they could not rig the plane to allow him to get out as well. But to a man, given the chance to parachute to safety, they all stayed aboard with a high likelihood of certain death.

I have met Alan Milacek and his lovely wife, Pat. I have heard the story first hand from him and watched as he shared the events of that night from the stage as a speaker. And the last thing that he calls himself is a hero. He was a captain with a responsibility, and he did his job. He does believe that faith played the larger role as they flew back over the enemy and did not get hit again, gained enough elevation to get over that mountain, and made it back to base without fuel.

An entire crew of 10 stayed on board, even though the general gave them a direct order to jump. They had hope, and they believed in their leader, their captain. Again, I really hope you will take the time to Google or search the Internet for the story of Flight 883 because the details behind the story will reveal his faith, the crew’s hope, Capt. Milacek’s heroism, and characteristics and traits of a true leader.

Retired Lt. Col. Milacek is just one story. We have had men and women who have served our country faithfully and courageously over the years. Each and every one of them are all heroes in their own right. And I, for one, am grateful for everything they have done and for all that our military continues to do today to ensure our safety and our freedom.

On Nov. 11, let’s not allow the ghosts and goblins of Halloween and the anticipation of gathering with our families and friends for Thanksgiving turkey and pie leave us short in our gratitude and remembrance of all those who have served and continue to serve this great country of ours.

I would love to hear all about your favorite veterans story at and let’s make this week an even better than good week.

Michael Norton is a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker, and CEO of He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.

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