There was an email going around a few years ago that described one of these episodes. This is not that episode. I now have a platform to tell you and my parents of my experience.
As we pulled back from the gate in Atlanta on the last flight home, the captain informed us of two special passenger's on board. One would be joining us in the cabin the other one in a special compartment below the cabin. The pilot introduced United States Army Soldier (forgive me I can not recall his name - I will call him "York") who would be accompanying his fellow soldier to his parents, hometown, and funeral. The fallen soldier had given the ultimate sacrifice while in Iraq.
It was the quietest fifty minute flight I had ever experienced. As a business travel of over 6 years, that is hundreds of flights. Maybe I was not the only one thinking about the cost of my freedom. Our flight arrived at near midnight. As we stopped at the gate, the seat belt sign was not immediately turned off. The pilot announced that in honor of the soldiers on the plane would we allow United States Soldier York to gather his belongings and exit the plane first. I had never seen an entire 100 passenger plane sit still while one person gathered their belongings to exit.
We all watched in silence. I could see Soldier York who was sitting ahead of me. He stood up, retrieved his bag from the over head bin and set it in his seat. He gathered his beret and methodically adjusted it on his head until it was just right. He then took a deep breath, arched his back, straighten his jacket, shouldered his bag, turned sharply and began to walk down the aisle to exit the plane. As many passengers as could, began to quietly and respectfully stand up. As he past an elderly lady, she smiled and patted his arm. Several men thanked him for his service to our country. I heard one gentlemen thank him for conducting the task he was currently assigned. As Soldier York was about to exit, the pilot asked us to hold our places until both soldiers had exited the plane.
I had a window seat. I sat back down and watched as the casket came down the conveyor belt. The family of the fallen soldier was standing behind the hearse. They were holding onto each other and wiping away their tears as the casket got closer to them. Soldier York graciously greeted the family. Along with other soldiers that had arrived, they ceremoniously transferred the casket to the hearse. They all stood back and saluted the soldiers casket before the door was closed on the hearse. As I turned my head to wipe a tear from my eye, I realized most of the passengers had crowded into the isles. They were straining to see out the window. The only sounds being made were sniffles. The respect the passengers were showing for our fallen soldier was amazing. The pilot broke the silence with the announcement we were now free to exit the plane.
Not a word was spoken by the passengers as they exited the plane. After I picked up my luggage and walked to my car, I was still amazed at what all I just witnessed. My car was parked near the security gate from the tarmac. For whatever reason had caused a delay, the hearse was just leaving the tarmac. It allowed me and about ten others to suddenly go stand on the curb. I felt this man deserved some reverence for defending me, my family, and our country. If felt his family deserved my condolences for the loss of their son. As his motorcade rode by those of us gathered, some saluted, some waved quietly, some held their hand over their heart, and some stood at attention.
I felt an array of emotion standing there. I was angry at the terrorists for bringing this fight to our country. I was immensely proud of our military. I was sad this soldier had lost his life defending me. I was heartbroken for the family losing a loved one. All these emotions were running through me at the same time. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I will never forget it.