Our author, Wayne, is a Viet Nam veteran. He, among others dedicated to the purpose of this blog, keeps us on the real track of this blog … understanding what it takes to “Keep the Republic.”
Honor and Respect
MAY GOD BLESS THIS AIRLINE CAPTAIN:
He 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.
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
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
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 respect they so deserve.
I know every one who has served their country who reads this
will have tears in his/her eyes, including me.
“Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as
they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless
acts they perform for us in our time of need. Amen..”
Prayer Request: When you receive this, please stop for a moment
and say a prayer for our troops around the world.
Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm’s way, prayer is the very best one.
GOD BLESS YOU!!!