Travel writer Johnny Jet posted today that the passengers on his Delta flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles included a handful of uniformed soldiers. Forty-five minutes before landing, the pilot asked the cabin to remain seated when they reached Los Angeles so the military escort could deplane first. He also warned passengers not to be alarmed by the fire trucks. The LAFD, he said, greets all fallen soldiers at LAX with a water cannon salute.
Passengers in the airport must have been worried when they saw our plane pull into gate 69A, as we had a full police and fire escort, front and back. I was on the left side of the plane and later realized that the family could be seen off to the right, standing with the United States Army Honor Guard....
When the jet door opened, another military officer addressed the escort who was standing at attention. He then stepped on the plane and told us passengers “I just addressed the escort. It’s a sworn oath to bring home the family of the fallen.” He paused and then said, “Today you all did that, you are all escorts, escorts of the heart.” And then thanked us for our time and walked off the plane.
As you can imagine, everyone was silent, no one got up, not even that person from the back row who pretends they don’t speak English so they can be first off the plane. I’m sure most had a meteor-sized lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes like I did.
It only got more emotional when I deplaned. There was a large number of passengers, who are normally in a hurry to get home or make a connection, standing by the window to witness something truly moving. To see the Honor Guard and family waiting patiently, while LAX baggage handlers and a military loadmaster remove the flag covered casket first from the cargo hold, was humbling to say the least. I’m not sure if it was the fallen soldier’s mother or wife who I watched slowly walk up to the coffin while a few other family members, wrapped in blankets, stood near with a dozen or so of the Honor Guards standing in salute.
As soon as I saw her reach out to put her hand on her baby’s casket, I walked away.