Pilots Reunited

Boeing B-17E

John Leahr, a proud fighter pilot of the Tuskegee Airmen, had escorted Herb Heilbrun’s B-17 in bombing missions in Europe during 1944.  B-17s were big, clumsy, and slow–easy targets for enemy aircraft.  Herb knew he owed his life to the shepherding fighter pilots. But John and Herb had never met. Fifty years later Herb wanted to thank the unknown men who had helped keep him alive. So he went to a reunion of the Tuskegee Airmen; there he found John and hugged him. They were later able to confirm that John had flown at least two missions with Herb’s B-17.  They also learned that they had lived for a time in the same place in Ohio. Afterwards Herb rummaged through his second grade photos and found one with the Herb and John standing next to each other.

Statisticians argue that low probability events like this must happen because the billions of people on Earth are creating trillions of intersections with each other every day. From this flood of possibilities, something very unlikely will emerge.

Hundreds of thousands of class pictures have been taken. Millions of children have been photographed next to each other.  Hundreds of young men became pilots in World War II. Some of those photographed together as children would likely end up flying together. They grew up in Ohio. Each decided to join the service after Pearl Harbor. They led the parallel lives of many young men during that era.

They did not know each other. How likely would it be for them to find each other? Very, very unlikely.

Somehow Herb found John at the reunion. He was looking for him without knowing exactly who he was. Herb found what he sought without knowing how. Perhaps buried somewhere in his subconscious was the memory of this brief childhood acquaintance.  More likely this is evidence for our Inner GPS—an innate ability that helps to make such coincidences happen.

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