<param name="movie" value="http://static.movieclips.com/embedplayer.swf?shortid=i2eG" /> <param name="wmode" value="transparent" /> <param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /> <param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /> <embed src="http://static.movieclips.com/embedplayer.swf?shortid=i2eG" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="304" wmode="transparent" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed>

Howard Hughes almost lost his life in the summer of 1946, when his XF-11 aircraft crashed in Beverly Hills. After grazing three homes, the plane crash landed and burst into flames, as Martin Scorsese so brilliantly recreated in The Aviator, above. Hughes, however, was ultimately saved by a man named William S. Durkin -- a US Marine who pulled the aviator away from the wreckage and brought him to safety.

Hughes apparently offered Durkin a monetary reward in the wake of the crash, but, according to Durkin's daughter, was spurned on several occasions. He did, however, send a heartfelt letter of appreciation, which Letters of Note published last year. Below is an excerpt, dated December 23, 1946.

In any event, I would like to see you and discuss your own views of how you feel I may most be helpful.

In the meantime, you may be able to use a little cash, even in China. My company, which feels duly grateful to you, is sending a small check. Another will follow each month until you return here for the discussion I have suggested.

I will always be grateful for your courageous action and am glad that you were uninjured.

Read the full text at Letters of Note.