A Tribute

31May10

I have no idea the source of this story, but even if it is fiction, it’s truth and power are undeniable, and particularly appropriate considering today’s focus.

Honor and Respect

THIS AIRLINE CAPTAIN WRITES:

“ My lead flight attendant came to me and said, “We have an H.R.
on this flight.” (H.R. stands for human remains.) “Are they military?”
I asked.

‘Yes’, she said.

‘Is there an escort?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I already assigned him a seat’.

‘Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck. You can board
him early,” I said..

A short while later, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck.
He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced
himself and I asked him about his soldier. The escorts of these fallen
soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us.

‘My soldier is on his way back to Virginia ,’ he said. He proceeded to
answer my questions, but offered no words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no.
I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I
appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers.
The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He
left the flight deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an
uneventful departure. About 30 minutes into our flight I received a
call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin. ‘I just found out
the family of the soldier we are carrying, is on board’, she said.
She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year
old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The
family was upset because they were unable to see the container that
the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub
at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight
home to Virginia .

The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his
son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him
was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight
attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to
see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo
door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.. I could hear
the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if
there was anything I could do.. ‘I’m on it’, I said. I told her that I
would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of
e-mail like messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my
flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There is a radio
operator in the operations control center who connects you to the
telephone of the dispatcher. I was in direct contact with the
dispatcher.. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and
what it was the family wanted.
He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were
going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I
sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message
from the dispatcher and the following is the text:

‘Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is
policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your
arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will
escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to
load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will
be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where
the remains can be seen on the ramp. It is a private area for the
family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be
escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being
loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight
control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family.
Thanks.’

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job.
I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to
pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and
told me, ‘You have no idea how much this will mean to them.’

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing.
After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The
ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is
always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter
and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp
controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

‘There is a team in place to meet the aircraft’, we were told. It
looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we
turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and
delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our
gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to
stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers.
He did that and the ramp controller said, ‘Take your time.’

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public
address button and said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain
speaking I have stopped short of our gate to make a special
announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and
respect. His Name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his
life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold.
Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his
father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking
for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to
exit the aircraft first. Thank you.’

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our
shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door.
I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just
do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger
on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit
the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly
started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in and
soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of ‘God Bless You’, I’m
sorry, thank you, be proud, and other kind words were uttered to the
family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane.
They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved
one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I
had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and
over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.

I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the
sacrifices that millions of our men and women have made to ensure our
freedom and safety in these United States of AMERICA .

Foot note:
As a Viet Nam Veteran I can only think of all the veterans including
the ones that rode below the deck on their way home and how they were
treated.
When I read things like this I am proud that our country has not
turned their backs on our soldiers returning from the various war
zones today and give them the” Honor and Respect” they so deserve.

Poignant.



One Response to “A Tribute”

  1. 1 Candace from Illinois

    Thank you for posting this story and for helping us to remember the debt of gratitude we owe to our fallen soldiers and their families.


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