Excerpt from NYCAviation is written by Eric “Cap’n Aux” Auxier, who is an airline pilot by day, writer by night, and kid by choice. An A320 captain for a major U.S. airline, he is also a freelance writer, novelist, and blogger (capnaux.com).
I recently experienced one of the greatest and most heart-rending honors a modern airline pilot can have: Captaining a flight that is transporting a fallen soldier to his final resting place.
Escorting the hero was a military honor guard consisting of two of the soldier’s comrades, and two young Marines. Also onboard were the man’s father and a lovely, devastated young woman -girlfriend? Wife? Sister? I never found out. I never learned the soldier’s name, either. Or his rank. Or how or where he died.
But it didn’t matter. Because, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he was ours. He was us.
Coming on the heels, as it was, of the Aurora movie theatre tragedy, this flight was particularly poignant for all passengers and crew as well.
As soon as our preflight duties were finished, I ordered the gate agents to allow the party onboard. They were escorted down to the ramp, where they presided over a short ceremony as the casket was loaded into the forward cargo hold. Simple, precise, and crisp, the military detail saluted the casket then made a sharp about face to march away, reminding me of the Missing Man Formation often flown by jet fighters.
For six hours as we crossed the country, I contemplated my speech. As Captain of the flight, I was expected to say a few words upon arrival. At Top of Descent, I took a deep breath and keyed the PA:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. I’d like you to pay special attention to this announcement. (pause) Today we have the great, great honor of escorting one of our fallen soldiers to his final resting place.