Monday, October 27, 2008

FALLEN SOLDIER, THE REST OF THE STORY


My post, “Fallen Soldier”, received thousands of views this past weekend. I am writing this post to tell you what happened after that flight and some things I have just come to know.

After the family was taken off the aircraft, they were immediately escorted down to the ramp and the cargo door. I found out last week that the team of escorts that met the aircraft to assist the family, are employee volunteers. These employees come from all areas of the airline for the single purpose of giving a fallen soldier the honor, respect, and dignity they deserve during their final journey home. I am proud to tell you that the corporation I work for unconditionally supports the efforts of this group of volunteers.

They call themselves the Patriot Guard Riders and have all volunteer teams in Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Norfolk, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. The Atlanta team has special jumpsuits made by a uniform supplier, displaying a military seal on the back. The team members render honors along with the military escorts and pay last respects to deceased service men and women as they are transported through the airport. Most volunteers are former service men and women or have family who are or were in the military. They have flags and when possible present a commemorative medallion on behalf of my company to the soldier’s family with the inscription: “We will not forget their sacrifice.”

I found this quote on the company's employee website, written by the senior vice president of customer service. I have replaced names with the letter “X”, to remain anonymous in my writing. “Were proud of our honor guard volunteers who represent XXXXX in paying special honors to the men and women who have served our country. The ceremony is not only meaningful to the families, but for everyone who has the privilege of seeing it.”

The article on the website was about the return of U.S Air Force Capt. Lorenza Conner, a pilot killed when he was shot down in Vietnam, in 1967. According to the article, his remains were discovered and identified last year. Apparently Capt Conner is a Georgia native and his remains were returning home for burial. One of our pilots, a Vietnam vet himself, piloted the last leg home from Honolulu. One of the Guard Riders was quoted, “I am doing this in part as a XXXXX employee, but I ride escort as a Ride Captain with the Patriot Guard Riders, escorting fallen soldiers home during funeral services.” Some of these volunteers use their free time to ride along with the remains to their final destination, all the way to burial.

I must throw in a thumbs up for the countless flight attendants who go out of their way to thank every service member in uniform as they exit the aircraft upon arrival. I listen to boarding announcements where along with the normal words, a statement is made to the cabin that there are military members on board today and that their service is appreciated.

Back to the family and their journey home with their son, husband and father. The team escorted the family to the cargo hold. After thanking the rest of the passengers, I proceeded to the pilot lounge as I had a couple of hours to go before my next flight. The lounge is a large area with computers, lockers, tables, chairs, etc. There normally is a lot of traffic there. I saw a friend of mine who was in my original training class twenty years ago. I have always liked Dave, he and I have bantered back and forth for years.

You see, Dave was a fighter pilot and I flew the heavy cargo planes. Dave was a dashing young fighter pilot in the day, crazy as they come and damn good at what he did. He taught fighter pilots, how to teach fighter pilots. His weapon of choice was the F-16. I flew cargo all over the world; doing some things I will never be able to tell you. My weapon of choice was a small Swiss army knife. It could open a can of beefaroni or a bottle of beer. My mission was to constantly seek the ultimate beaches, rivers, ice fields, and other naturally spectacular places, wherever I went.

Although Dave was an Air Force pilot, he managed to learn to swear like a sailor. Dave is now in his fifties and I can attest to the simple fact that he has officially made the transition to being a loud and crusty old fighter pilot. I had not seen him in a while so I walked up and pinched his left nipple as hard as I could. “Jesus, you dumb bastard, let me kick you in the nuts!”, he said, while not one other pilot bothered to look our way. “Hey, I was just making sure you were still alive. That stupid ass grin you keep on that pasty white sheet, you call a face, makes you look like a mannequin”, I said. And so it goes for a few minutes. We finally settle down and catch up on life, his in Florida, mine in California. I asked him if he had time to get a bite to eat. He said, “Yeah, I don’t sign in for a few hours, I work a flight to Norfolk at 4:30.”

“Norfolk!” I said. “Is it flight XXXX?” I said. Dave was flying the soldier home on his last leg. I proceeded to tell Dave what had happened on my flight. At one point, Dave flushed crimson red, and then tears welled up in his eyes. “Fuck, I cry like a god damn baby every time I hear stories like that”, he said. “Well listen up soldier, you have the honor of taking him home and I have a mission for you”, I said. We talked a bit longer and I had to leave. Dave knew the family was going to be escorted back down to the cargo hold to watch the soldiers’ remains be put aboard his aircraft. Dave was planning on getting to the gate early to introduce himself to the family and escort. He wanted to be standing with them outside, if the family wanted that. That crusty ass fighter pilot was on a mission and nothing was going to stop him from doing anything and everything he could for that family. They could not have been in better hands.

I have not seen Dave since that day. Somewhere down the road we will catch up with each other and I will ask him how the rest of that day went. In the mean time, the honor, respect, and dignity that our fallen soldiers deserve, will continue 24/7 at my company. I am sure other airlines have good people doing the same type of thing. As of Saturday, October 25th, the U.S. deaths in Iraq totaled 4,187. The U.S. deaths in Afghanistan totaled 549. Spc Deon L. Taylor, 30, Bronx, N.Y., Cpl Adrian Robles, 21, Scottsbluff, Neb. and Lance Cpl San Sim, 23, Santa Ana, Ca, who died this week in service to their country, deserve nothing less.

Be Safe,

FlyGuy

20 Comments:

Anonymous Lenman said...

Outstanding post. I'm thankful - as I'm sure many others are - that your corporation maintains a culture of being outwardly appreciative towards passengers serving in uniform, and for being respectful to the veterans and their families during times of their heaviest sorrow. As a bluesuiter still serving after 26 years, I continue to be amazed of the support shown by the general public and by airline employees whenever I travel commercially. It's reading posts like "Fallen Soldier" that remind me that we have many people out there on our side. Thank you and to the many people you work with/for for doing what you do for us out there...

3:15 AM  
Blogger MMC said...

I was one of those people who viewed your "Fallen Soldier" post (and the rest of your blog for the first time) this past week. Thanks for "the rest of the story" and what you and your fellow co-workers do.

10:17 AM  
Blogger I R A Darth Aggie said...

“Fuck, I cry like a god damn baby every time I hear stories like that”, he said.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who does that.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Zulu for a job very well done from a fellow Southernjets employee over here at the OCC.

I am also proud to work for a classy carrier whose employees extend themselves like they did for this. When I read that story on the company intranet, I thought it was very cool.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Shamrock 105 said...

You know... I am a veteran of 35 years .. probably only the same hours. Never military, but into war zones nevertheless. I despise US military aggression and decades of CIA induced misery .. but I love that Budweiser add for the returning soldiers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUrf6Qg4T4E .. real grass-roots America.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn! I just read this story and shed a tear of my own! As a former Naval aviator serving 8 years as a P-3 driver and a veteran of Desert Storm, I understand the importance of respecting and honoring our troops and all others who choose to serve. Kudos to your company and the other airlines who are doing this great service for our fallen comrades. Oorah!

6:27 PM  
Blogger Jean said...

I wish very much that you would continue writing here. Please.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very moving.
Rand

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

please come back and god bless the USA

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When are you going to update???

9:06 PM  
Blogger C said...

thanks for the great blog! both "Fallen Soldier" posts are amazing. i hope you'll find the time to post here again!

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Ricky said...

thanks for the blog.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Flying Kites Mom said...

Flyguy- 4 Apr 09-

Miss you blog! Do hope all is well as I can't imagine your work experiences have dried up!

All the best

lhs.pf1

5:19 AM  
Anonymous Dott said...

Outstanding... I do wish and hope you will post on your blog again, I love reading it! (Read all of it yesterday.)

6:47 AM  
Anonymous DwayneHopeless said...

Truly a very rare story of how people can actually do their jobs the right way.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you sir for doing what you did. It reminds me that there are still people in this country that do care. It has also shown the rest of our industry the level of professionalism and pride that should come with being an airline pilot, and an American. Take care, fly safe, and God bless you sir.

8:28 AM  
Blogger McStain said...

Great story Fly Guy, however we are the Delta Air Lines Honor Guard. We have worked with the patriot riders on a few escorts.
We honor all those who serve in the military in any branch and in any capacity, we have honored those who have been MIA for over 65 years from WWII to a young man who passed away his last day of boot camp. I have personally never served a day in my life. I am honored to be surrounded by many agents who have served and few who have not but are just as dedicated. Some have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Viet Nam, Two have lost family, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

These people are dedicated and have no problem rendering honors in the rain, cold, wind and blistering heat on the ramp. I have people show up on their days off, before work, after work and even on vacation to help. This group is all volunteer, no extra pay or benefits no extra days off just the satisfaction that they have honored a person who has committed their lives to protecting ours and our great way of life. One thing I do not think most people realize is many times the escorts are themselves related to the service members. A few recent ones I will never forget.

An Air Force pilot that was shot down in Viet Nam in 1968 and finally recovered and identified was traveling through ATL on his way to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. We went to render honors, and I went upstairs to get the escort, he had elderly woman with him and asked if she could come down as well, I agreed and we went down and preformed honors and when I gave him the card and coin to give to the next of kin he referred me to this small frail woman, she was the pilots wife. She is 81 years old and had been waiting 41 years for him to come home, she was in awe that a group of total strangers would take the time to honor a man none of us knew. She personally thanked everyone and then the Air Force escort pointed to his wrist, there on his wrist was an MIA/POW bracelet for this pilot he had been wearing for the last 17 years...

I had an escort come off a flight, a Command Sergeant Major, 30 years in the U.S. Army, a man to be both respected and feared. The honor guard had finished rendering honors on the remains he was escorting, an 18 year old “girl” who was killed in Afghanistan, I was getting ready to take the escort upstairs to board the flight when he asked me If I had any children, and if any were serving in the military, I told him “yes” I have three sons and my oldest was deployed in Afghanistan. He was trembling and asked that I give my boys a hug and next time I talked to my son in Afghanistan to let him know how much I loved him “because you never know.” The “girl” he was escorting was his daughter...

On April 24th we had an escort come off the flight from HNL and then connecting on to DFW I had done some research and had found out the remains were that of SSgt XXXXX of the United States Army Air Force, shot down in his B-24 in September of 1944. Normally if the remains is army the escort is army and so on. SSgt XXXXX escort was a United States Marine. This gentleman would not leave the remains for a second and was absolutely dedicated to watching over his ward. After rendering honors on SSgt XXXXX the escort asked if he could address the honor guard. At this point Captain XXXXX, USMC wanted to thank us and everyone at Delta Air Lines for the manner in we transported and the homecoming of SSgt XXXXX, his grandfather whom he had never met...

On October 8, 2008 my eldest son Sr. Airman Brian J McConnell Jr. USAF escorted the remains of my father MSgt Angus J. McConnell {USAF retired} through Atlanta. I was filled with many emotions that day, sadness for the loss of my dad and over whelming love and pride for my son and his commitment to honor his grandfather and get him home. I will forever be grateful to my Delta family for the respect and honor shown to my family and myself. Thank You All...

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Naomi Watson said...

Thank you for this. I am a Delta flight attendant and your post was forwarded to me by a friend in an email. I have re-posted your story with a link back to your blog on my facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/thedreamtripper so all my Delta friends can see!

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a retired Sailor, I have had friends and acquaintances not return from their deployments. Some came back with baggage they couldn't leave behind.

Acts like this prove to me that America is a country worth standing up for.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Jack Johnstone said...

The cargo and air frieght handlers with the major carriers such as TWA,United,American,World Airways and Flying Tiger became a direct witness to the esculation of the war in Vietnam.

Working the ramp and warehouses at SFO on a cold tarmac,watching a soldier saluting the coffin of his buddy or relative, coming out of the cargo hold, on the conveyor
belt was a gut wrenching task.

The solumn duty of these military escorts was something special to behold and a never forgotten memory to those of us who worked there.

6:13 PM  

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