Solider Makes It Back On Time - - Jackson, MS

Bay St. Louis 10/24/07

Solider Makes It Back On Time

      Patriotism speaks in many ways.

      In September, it spoke clearly through a group of local private

pilots and airline passengers when they pulled together to help a

soldier rushing to make an appointment more than 7,000 miles away.

      That's roughly the distance from Camp Shelby to Iraq, where Army

soldier Martin Medina was headed. He faced a twofold problem.

Having missed a flight from Texas, he was running late. He was also

running low on cash.

      Timing was everything because Medina, who had been on leave, was

scheduled to rejoin his unit and leave Camp Shelby almost

immediately for duty in Iraq. That's when the Mississippians came


      It was a Wednesday afternoon. Medina, of Texas, was aboard a

Southwest Airlines flight from Dallas to New Orleans. The flight

was scheduled to land in New Orleans at 4 p.m.

      Diamondhead resident Mario Feola was just settling in on the

same plane when a flight attendant made an announcement: A soldier

aboard needed to travel to Camp Shelby from New Orleans, but he was

out of money. He had learned cab fare from the airport would be


      Fellow passengers started chipping in and within minutes, they

raised $800. Feola was worried that even with the money, a cab ride

from New Orleans would not allow the young soldier to reach Camp

Shelby by his deadline.

      Feola was willing to drive Medina to Camp Shelby, but that still

left a time crunch.

      "That's why the whole movement was so critical," Feola said.

      Before the plane left Dallas, he used his cell phone to call

fellow pilots back home. He reached Diamondhead pilot Jay Botsay,

who then helped him reach Fred Kleppner and his son, Kiln resident

Tim Kleppner. Both are pilots.

      The junior Kleppner happened to be at the Picayune Airport that

day. He, in turn, reached his father, who flew to Picayune and

picked him up. They arranged to meet at the Slidell Airport with

Feola, who whisked Medina off the Southwest flight and drove him to


      Other passengers stayed seated to allow the two off first. Some

were still thrusting money at Medina as they left the plane.

      "They clapped and wished him good luck," Feola wrote in a

personal recollection. "As we ran up the gangway, we could still

hear the clapping. 'God bless America' was heard everywhere."

      Recently, Feola said his own background as a former soldier and

private business experience with the military prompted his actions.

      "I'm a flag waver," he said. "I'm ex-military, and when I saw

that, it just re-instilled my faith."

      He said Medina, who is in Army security, was in his early 20s,

and that also struck a chord.

      Tim Kleppner said he and his father happened to be in the right

place at the right time that day.

      There was no hesitation when they had the chance to help a young

soldier headed for the front, especially when the request came from

fellow pilots.

      "It's an unwritten thing about pilots. We all stick together,"

he said.

      When the Kleppners touched down at Hattiesburg, darkness was

approaching and they had to fly back. They left behind a relieved

soldier, one they assume caught a cab the 30 miles from Hattiesburg

to Camp Shelby.

      Another happy footnote: When the Southwest passengers finished

contributing, Medina had about $1,000. He told Feola he plans to

spend part of the money on an engagement ring for his girlfriend.

The rest will be put away for college. After the military, he hopes

to attend medical school.

      "It's difficult for me to put into words the feelings, teamwork

and love for our country that came forth that evening," Feola

said. "I know Martin was overwhelmed and would have a wonderful

story to tell his comrades. We wish him well and hope to hear from

him soon."


      Information from: The Sun Herald,


      (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)





Powered by Frankly