On Sunday, I attended the “Amerifest” service for the first time at Spring Creek Church in Pewaukee, Wis. This 36th annual event honors America’s veterans with an all-day celebration. An orchestra opened the service by playing the songs of each military branch, which summoned the vets to the front to accept a lanyard and join their peers on a crowded stage.

Then, Tom Joyce, a retired Navy Captain and graduate of both Annapolis and “Top Gun,” took the podium. Now a pastor, Joyce shared what life was like at the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Thrown about by the plane crash, Joyce endured the fires to see daylight again. He was the last of his office colleagues to walk out of the Pentagon that day.

Heroes Doing Their Job. Joyce shared his personal witness to the bravery he’d seen in his career. His first example was of a comrade “blown out of” the Pentagon’s walls on 9/11, and who re-entered the blaze 4 times to resuscitate and save civilians.

Joyce’s other story was seen on the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier destined for the Korean peninsula. The seas were so treacherous that flights were halted for 10 days. When pilots took to the air again, the storms returned, and pilots struggled to return on their nighttime qualifying flights. The last pilot, low on fuel, was on his 7th and do-or-die attempt. A 30-foot swell lifted the back of the carrier and the plane crashed. Ejected from the craft, the winds carried him right onto the on-deck inferno.

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor…” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Five enlisted teens immediately rushed the flames to surround the young lieutenant. Each suffered burns, but the lieutenant saw his young family again.

Why do it? “Because of our training,” was the answer. “You take care of the ship and your shipmate. And if there’s anything left, then think of yourself.”

The Question. Joyce recalled 9/11 and his arrival at home 17.5 exhausting hours later. He found his teenage son waiting up. After a great embrace, his son said, “For some reason, God spared your life today,” recalls Joyce. “And then twice, my son asked, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of your life?’”

Good question, and it’s stayed with me 3 days later. Maybe it’s my speed-limit birthday 3 weeks ago. Or my youngest leaving the nest. Or the grad speeches on legacy. Or my eldest son’s remaining months in the Army. Or seeing my dad’s life’s work coming together in what may be his final book. Or a friend who survived a deadly accident with a 1-in-40 million odds who lived to talk about it at our company’s profit-sharing meeting.

Or maybe I’m reflecting on our business as we diligently prepare your Dealership Minds Summit (DMS) in August, which tackles the weighty subject of leadership and management transitions head-on. We’re all on this journey, one that’s never completed.

The question Joyce asked is profound. And it’s the responsibility of all of us who manage any portion of the business.

At Lessiter Media, our leadership team is talking with our mid-managers to prep the next-generation to “step up and lean in.” Many are yet to be battle-tested, and we’ll need to let go of our protective instincts to let them gain it. We didn’t use Joyce’s code at our managers meeting, but we asked staff to join in “Company-Department-Manager-Self.”

How Will You Use Your Final Days? I hope this question spurs you to join us in Madison, Wis., for the DMS. Here, you’ll learn what you can do now to prep others for the path that was once cleared for you. And if done right, the transition takes place without fanfare, but with the satisfaction that you “paid it forward.” Consider an agreed-upon code of values with the covenant that preparing your successor is your job and commitment.

You can watch Joyce’s message here.