I boarded an airplane that I was not supposed to take in October 2013. I was not feeling well so I delayed my flight for a day. It was a change that would lead me to the most difficult flight of my entire life. This flight is something I often think about, especially Veteran's Day. This is what made it so special.
Delta Flight 2255, Atlanta to Los Angeles, seemed like an ordinary flight. Candy was however the most caring flight attendant I have ever seen. She used her southern charm to calm every situation and thanked the few uniformed soldiers for their service. The poignant message was met with applause, and it was put in perspective that no one would be able do what they do without these brave men or women.
This transcontinental flight was anything but ordinary. The captain informed us that we were transporting a soldier who had died in combat. He explained to the plane that there was a military escort aboard and requested that everyone stay seated for a few minutes so that the soldiers could leave first. He advised us to not be alarmed if we saw fire trucks as Los Angeles salutes its fallen military with a watercanon salute. Check out my video.
We did have a water canon salute a few minutes after touchdown. This was something I had only ever experienced on happy occasions such as inaugural flights. The water shimmering on the windowspanes looked almost like we were shedding tears.
The airport was full of police and fire personnel, so passengers must have been concerned when the plane pulled into gate 69A.
Later, I realized that my family could be seen standing with the United States Army Honor Guard on the right side of the plane. Wikipedia states that each military branch has an honor guard. These guards are usually military-related and are made up of volunteers who have been carefully screened. Honor guards are responsible for providing funeral honors to fallen comrades.
Another military officer approached the escort, who was still standing at attention, when the jet door opened. Then he stepped onto the plane and said to us, "I just addressed you." It is a sworn swear to bring home, to family, and the fallen." He then paused, then said, "Today, you all did that. You are all escorts.
As you can see, everyone was quiet. Not even the person in the back row pretending they don't know English to be the first one off the plane. Most people had tears in their eyes and lumps of meteor-sized size in their throats, just like me.
The emotion only grew when I deplaned. It was quite moving to see so many people, most of whom are in a rush to get home or make a connection. It was quite humbling to see the Honor Guard, family, and military loadmaster patiently waiting while the LAX baggage handlers removed the flag-covered casket from the cargo hold. It was unclear if the mother or wife of the fallen soldier was what I saw slowly walking up to the coffin. A few family members were wrapped in blankets and stood close with the Honor Guards as they saluted.
I was shocked when she reached out to touch the casket of her baby. I ran away.
This was an ordinary flight that turned into something extraordinary. It is one I will never forget.
We are grateful to the military for protecting our country. Let us live the life we want. We would not be where we are without you. We are grateful to the Honor Guard for treating fallen soldiers, heroes, and warriors with the respect and care they deserve.
JOHNNY’S NOTE: This story and the video struck a chord with so much people. There have been literally thousands of emails and comments, but the one that I loved most was from Indiana Joan, a Yahoo user. She said:
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