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Lest we forget

I’ve seen this story a number of times on several websites, this will be the first time I’ve shared it here.

I must share this story I read while having my morning coffee, about a Pilot and his crews dedication and honorable efforts to do the right thing for our fallen Brothers ad Sisters.
His name is Capt Ken Koenen and he writes;

My lead flight attendant came to me and said..
“We have an HR on this flight, (Human Remains)
Are they Military?
Yes, she said
Is there an escort?
Yes, I’ve 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 the young Army Sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked 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 the preflight checks and pushed back and preformed an uneventful departure. About 30 mins into our flight, I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin…
I 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 his 2 year old Daughter were escorting their Son, Husband and Father home. The family were 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 gong to wait 4 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 arrival. The family wanted to be outside the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.

I could hear the desperation on the flight attendants voice when she asked if there was anything we could do.
I’m on it!..I said …and told her id get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of an email like msg. 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 with the telephone of the dispatcher. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation 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 msg asking for an update and here’s the msg I got in response…

“Cpt, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is a policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon 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”.

“Cpt, most of us here in flight control are Veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks”.

I sent a msg back thanking flight control for a job well done. I printed out the msg and gave it to the 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 to get 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 the aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter to and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the 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.

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking break. I pushed the public address button and said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, 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 XXXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is SGT XXXXXXX. Also on board is his father, mother, wife and daughter. Your entire crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you”.

We continued 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 don’t 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 began to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined and soon the enter aircraft was clapping. Words of God Bless You, So Sorry, Be Proud and many other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. The were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many 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 would 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 Stats of America.

Foot note:

I know everyone who reads this will have tears in their eyes, including me. Please share this!
When you receive this please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops around the word…there is nothing attached…Just send this to people on your address book. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor or Airman, prayer is the very best one.
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“God Bless You”!

Thank you all that have served and serving today. We will never forget.

And thank you! Captain Koenen for an awesome job…

Thank you for taking time this morning to read this story. Have a wonderful weekend.
~Anna

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