Mayfield, KY – I am retired from the U.S. Air Force. I was no hero, just an aircraft mechanic who somehow became an officer and did my part I was blessed to be able to serve. One of the great things about my military career was the opportunity to rub shoulders with giants. I got to meet General Curtis LeMay, the founder of Strategic Air Command and talk to him a few minutes. I came to know former POWs, including Brigadier General Robinson Risner, who spent years in a dark hole, never seeing a human face, but never losing faith. I met Francis (Paddy) Gabreski, one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time, credited with 39 aerial victories. Among all of these giants, however, the most interesting veteran I ever met was Chief Master Sergeant Bogdan Jakubiki. Chief Jake, as he was known, was a great maintenance non-com. He got the job done right, and on time. If a crisis erupted on the flight line Chief Jake would plunge into it and deal with it decisively. The only problem with Chief Jake was his English. When I was newly assigned to the outfit, the colonel introduced us, he said, "Jake speaks eight languages," Jake completed the joke by grinning and saying, "English ninth." And Jake was not kidding sometimes in the midst of a problem on the line, the chief would be on the radio, slipping back and forth between all of the languages of Eastern Europe (and Arabic), and occasionally landing on English, sort of. Chief Jake had no reputation for verbal eloquence until his retirement luncheon.
The McGuire AFB NCO Club was crowded that day, with all ranks, from three stars on down, as we came to bid farewell to Chief Jake. The first part of the dinner was standard retirement bash stuff roasting Jake, sharing stories, and so on, until Jake stood up to speak. He was obviously uncomfortable as he put on his thick reading glasses and began to speak, his hands trembling, his voice shaking, as he read from a few typed sheets of paper. He said, "I am unworthy servant," and as he bared the depths of his soul in tortured English, we were soon all crying. He told of his childhood in Poland, running and hiding first from the Nazis and then from the Russians, because his father had been a Polish Army officer. They hid in barns, they hid in the Carpathian mountains, they hid in all sorts of places. At the end of the war, Jake and his family traveled through the Russian and German lines to get to the American lines, moving only at night frightened out of their wits several times, they were almost discovered, and they were shot at several times by the Russians and the Germans. Chief Jake halted and wiped his eyes before telling of kindly American troops feeding Jake and his family he confessed a love for G.I. C-rations up to that day. Jake told of more miracles, including his family being granted refugee status, and his first sight of "the Lady in the Harbor." Jake graduated from high school in New Jersey, and immediately joined the US Air Force, where he served for 28 years. He finished his speech by saying: "I knew I must give back, I must pay back, for all those who die, and for all my country do for me. He looked around, and said, God Bless My America." And he sat down. The applause was thunderous, and we all cried some more.. My colonel, wiping his eyes, said quietly, "Why'd you do that to me Jake?"
I lost track of Chief Jake since that luncheon in 1984; I don't know if he is still among the living, nor do I know where he has been or what he is doing. If he is alive and able, I know he is still paying back. But I will never forget the lesson he taught us that day, that there is no eloquence of human language that can compete with the eloquence of a true story well told, and a love for country that not everyone can appreciate, unless they have walked in similar shoes to Chief Jake.
Charley Buntin enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft radar mechanic in 1971, and served over 20 years, retiring as a Major. He has degrees in History and Social Sciences, International Relations, and Religion. After working as a manager for Lockheed Martin and Continental General Tire, Major Buntin moved into public education and the ministry. He teaches history at the Mayfield Youth Development Center, and is a National Board Certified Teacher of Social Studies. The smartest thing he ever did was to woo and win his lovely high school sweetheart and wife of 40 years, Claudia. Together, they operate a Biblical Counseling ministry, and Major Buntin is also the pastor of Little Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in the Wingo community. In their spare time, the Major and his lady play with their three grandchildren.