“The data center is down, and we don’t know when we will get the systems back online.” One of the most distressing statements that I can recall during my career. A CIO never wants to receive that phone call. Business revenue, IT credibility, and company morale impacted in a big way. We took those events very seriously, but we kept our work in proper perspective knowing that we were not saving lives and indeed not protecting the freedom of nations. We understand business leadership, but very few of us can claim experience exhibiting heroic leadership.

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the unveiling of a monument in Beek, Netherlands to commemorate the loss and sacrifice of ten brave war heroes from WWII.

Unveiling of B-17 Monument in Beek Netherlands
Unveiling of B-17 Monument in Beek Netherlands

On October 14, 1943, a B-17, piloted by 1st Lt. Vernon Keith Cole, 24, was hit by a rocket over the Netherlands. Cole ordered an immediate bail-out. Four crew members lost their lives that day; six were able to parachute to safety, but all six were captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in various German Prisoner of War camps. During their last days in German captivity, they were forced to walk three hundred miles with insufficient food. One soldier reported weighing only eighty-eight pounds upon returning home. After Lt. Cole ordered the bail-out, he stayed on the plane alone long enough to redirect the aircraft away from a highly populated area crashing into an open field. He parachuted out but was found dead on a farm nearby the crash site. His sacrifice is an exemplary example of heroic leadership. Lt. “Keith” Cole was my husband’s great Uncle whom he was named after.

During our time in Holland, we met several other family members of the nine crewmen that accompanied Lt. Keith Cole on that final mission. We listened intently to the stories passed down by the POW survivors about the incredible leadership style of Lt. Cole. Statements like, “He was the glue!” “Everyone admired him and wanted to follow Lt. Cole.” “He was top of the line!” As I listened with tears and genuine pride for this great man, I could only describe him as a heroic leader. A level of leadership that we cannot teach as it comes from selfless acts of unimaginable service. All ten men were heroic leaders and unsung heroes for seventy-four years until Oct. 14, 2017, in Beek, Netherlands.

Monument in Beek Netherlands
Monument in Beek Netherlands

As I look back and reflect on my version of stressful moments on the job and in life, they seem silly in comparison without a doubt. The unveiling experience gave me tremendous joy and gratitude for the freedom to have those work experiences and a good life enabled by these great men and thousands of others who fought the battles of WWII.

WWII B-17 Monument in Beek Netherlands
WWII B-17 Monument in Beek Netherlands

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