Lawmaker gives up seat to let soldier get home

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Zeb Blackledge: National Guard soldier finally made it home from training after a North Dakota congressman helped him.

EDGEFIELD, S.C. - An encounter in a faraway airport - and an act of generosity - has restored one Edgefield native's faith in mankind.

That's how Army National Guard Pvt. Zeb Blackledge describes what occurred to him a few weeks ago.

Pvt. Blackledge - a soldier with the 816th Engineer Company of Williston, North Dakota - was on his way home to Minot, N.D., from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he had been training. At the Minnesota/St. Paul International Airport, Northwest Airlines was having trouble with several of its flights, causing delays, when a man walked up to Pvt. Blackledge and told him he had exchanged his first-class seat for the soldier's coach seat.

"I tried to refuse," said Pvt. Blackledge, who grew up in Edgefield where his family still lives. "But he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."

Pvt. Blackledge had no idea that the man was a prominent politician: U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat from North Dakota.

But that flight was canceled, and when the passengers were returned to the airport. Pvt. Blackledge was booked for a flight the next night. After sleeping in the airport, he went to the ticket counter to get on standby.

At 8:30 a.m., Mr. Pomeroy - who had an 8:55 a.m. flight - again spotted Pvt. Blackledge. "Are you still here?" Pvt. Blackledge recalled the congressman saying. "We need to get you on a plane."

A few minutes later Pvt. Blackledge was called over to the ticket counter, where he was told the man had given him his ticket.

Pvt. Blackledge tried to give the ticket back but it was too late.

At that point, he said, his eyes filled with tears and he shook Mr. Pomeroy's hand, gave him a quick hug, and ran for his flight.

"I didn't find out he was a congressman until I got home," Pvt. Blackledge said. "I told my godmother someone named 'Pomeroy' had given me his seat and she figured out it was Congressman Pomeroy."

Pvt. Blackledge said the incident turned his view around on some things.

"It showed me there are still nice people in the world," he said. "He didn't know me. He was just looking out for the soldiers and the country."