But this transcontinental flight turned out to be everything but ordinary. We later learned, when the captain got on the PA system about 45 minutes prior to landing, that we were transporting a fallen soldier. The plane went quiet as he explained that there was a military escort on-board and asked that everyone remain seated for a couple of minutes so the soldiers could get off first. He also warned us not to be alarmed if we see fire trucks since Los Angeles greets their fallen military with a water canon salute. See my video below.
A few minutes after touchdown, we did indeed have a water canon salute, which I’d previously only experienced on happy occasions like inaugural flights. This time, the water glistening on the windowpanes looked like tears.
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. According to , each military branch has its own honor guard, usually military in nature, and is composed of volunteers who are carefully screened. One of the primary roles for honor guards is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades.
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 meteor-sized lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes like I did.
As soon as I saw her reach out to put her hand on her baby’s casket, I walked away.
This ordinary flight became extraordinary and is one that I will never forget.
Thank you to all the military who protect our beautiful country and let us live the lives we are able to lead. Without you we would be nothing. And thank you to the Honor Guard for making sure these fallen soldiers, warriors and heroes are not treated like just any piece of luggage as they used to, but rather with the care and respect they so rightly deserve.
JOHNNY’S NOTE: I had no idea this story and video were going to strike a chord with so many people. I’ve received literally thousands of comments and emails but my favorite was the one left on from reader Indiana Joan. She said:
- How American Airlines Treats Our Military
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