Last winter, we were on a cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship and were taking the elevator to one of the 14 decks, when the doors opened and an odd looking man got on with his much taller wife. He was only a little over five feet tall and had a fright wig/combover hairdo that, in spite of his obvious age, was jet black. In spite of his unusual appearance, he looked somehow familiar. He looked at us, smiled, and said “Hello dere!”. Then we knew who it was: Marty Allen. Allen was a big comic years ago, first as part of Allen and Rossi, then as a solo stand up act. His crazy hair was one of his trademarks, along with his catchphrase, Hello dere. He hadn’t been on TV for a while, however, and, noticing that he seemed a bit confused, we couldn’t help but wonder if he was just sticking around beyond his time.
That night, however, he was the headline act in the ship’s theater (yes, the ship was that big) and put on a great show that had the audience rocking with laughter. Allen had lost none of his wit, timing, and general show biz enthusiasm. There was a question and answer session afterwards that showed he could still think on his feet with the best of them, and still be ad lib funny.
But here’s the really interesting part. We learned that during WWII, Allen had been in the Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the modern Air Force, and that he was on a ground crew that serviced the big bombers in Italy. One day, a fuel truck parked next to the bomber he was loading caught on fire and threatened to explode, incinerate the bomber, and set off the bombs as well. The rest of the crew ran for their lives, but Allen got in the burning fuel truck and drove it a safe distance away before returning to fight the fire. As a result, the fire was contained without anything exploding. For this exploit, Allen was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, a special decoration for acts of heroism that did not involve contact with the enemy. The unit also held a parade in his honor. Allen’s reaction was to worry that his mother would be mad at him for taking chances.
So the next time you see an ordinary and insignificant looking person, remember what some of them are capable of and what they might have done in their past; even if it’s just an odd-looking little guy with frizzy hair and a knack for making people laugh.