The Fallen Soldier on my Flight

By Rich Harwood As my flight from Honolulu to Dallas pulled up to the gate, the flight attendant asked the passengers to remain in their seats. Then he requested all to observe a moment of silence as a U.S. Air Force Sergeant was to fulfill his duties in bringing a fallen soldier home.

I fly multiple times a month. At the end of each flight, people pop up from the seats to “deplane” as quickly as possible. Many can be seen standing even before the plane reaches the gate. Others, once permitted to stand, jostle for position in order to improve their place in the queue. And there are those who relentlessly nudge others along, seemingly oblivious to their own rude behavior.

This is the ritual that repeats itself daily during the grind of flying. And yet on this day, on this flight, everything changed in a moment’s notice.

Gone were people’s insistence to follow their own course. Gone was the mad rush. Gone were the complaints about fellow passengers not moving fast enough.

On this jam-packed Boeing 767 flight, people responded immediately as if they had been tipped off as to what was about to happen. But they hadn’t known. None of us did. And so happy vacationers coming from sun-filled Hawaii sat there. Not a move. Not a sound.

The Sergeant alone stood up, took his bag down from the overhead bin, and stoutly walked down the aisle, out of the cabin. Soon you could see him outside, there on the right side of the plane, with other local soldiers in salute, as the casket was removed from the plane’s stowage.

I was on my way home from a two-week business trip to Australia and Hawaii. During the Australia leg, I was asked repeatedly what our friends down under should learn from the States when it comes to strengthening communities and solving pressing problems. I found myself imploring the Australians to look to themselves first; to tap into their own ingenuity; to examine their own successes. It is also true, however, that each time I led off my response by saying: “I love my country. I am proud of its can-do attitude. I know that that we have made many mistakes over our history, and I love that eventually we seem to find ways to correct our course and continue to strive for a more perfect union.”

These thoughts of Australia rushed into my mind as I watched the series of events unfold as my plane stood at the gate and the Sergeant stood up from his seat. Amid the absolute silence on the plane, my eyes quickly welled up with tears. I did not know this fallen soldier’s name. I did not know where this fallen soldier was coming from. I did not know how this soldier fell, or where he or she was to be laid to rest.

But I felt a deep sense of sorrow for this soldier and his or her family. And I felt a deep love of country. I was proud of those on this plane who put aside all our common impulses to pay proper respect.