A Hero's Homecoming

updated 02/09/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

Landing a disabled plane on the Hudson River? Piece of cake. But facing thousands of cheering fans at a Jan. 24 rally in his honor? That seemed to rattle Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, 58, who held tight to his wife at his boisterous welcome in Danville, Calif. After a whirlwind week that included an invite to the Inauguration from President Obama, the man who saved 155 lives finally made his first public remarks—and said all of 68 words. "I know I can speak for the entire crew," he told the crowd, "that we were simply doing the job we were trained to do."

While his Jan. 15 Hudson River landing may have amazed the world, friends and colleagues were not surprised. "I call him Cool Hand Luke," says neighbor Joe Green, 81, who went blind seven years ago but refused to use a guide dog. Then Sully and his wife helped him get one. "It changed my life," says Green. "He was my hero before he ever landed that plane."

Sully's wife, Lorrie, 50, who like their two teenage daughters beamed with pride at the rally, echoed that thought. "For me, he's the man who makes my cup of tea every morning," she said through tears. "I knew what the outcome would be that day, because I knew my husband."

From Our Partners