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
‘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
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 air- craft’, 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
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 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. 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!!!