[StBernard] For this Memorial Day

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Tue May 25 08:18:35 EDT 2010

Worth the read...
~This Memorial Day~


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. 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 respect they so deserve.

I know every one who has served their country who reads this will
have tears in their eyes, including me.

Prayer chain for our Military... Don't break it!

Please send this on after a short prayer.. Prayer for our soldiers
Don't break it!

'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.

There is nothing attached. Just send this to people in your address
book. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine,
Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm's way, prayer is the very
best one.


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