I got an email from my Aunt. Usually she sends jokes that almost always start out as something serious. As I started to read this, I started to get a little angry thinking this isn’t a joking subject. Why would someone make this into one. I almost quit reading.. I’m glad I didn’t.
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
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 also 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 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.
I know every one 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 for our service men and women.
Don’t break it!
They die for me and mine and you and yours and deserve our honor and
‘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.. In Jesus Name, Amen.’
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.
GOD BLESS YOU!
I hope everyone enjoyed this, as much as I did, in the sense of awe and gratitude towards the captain and the passengers of this flight.