Last Saturday, as I was returning home from an auto glass repair and replacement industry meeting, I had the honor of experiencing an event that I’ve never before had. I was sitting on a Southwest Airlines plane in Jacksonville, Florida when the pilot asked for everyone’s attention. After flying several million miles in my life I was expecting to hear him tell everyone onboard the old tired lines of “Welcome to Southwest” or “Today we’ll be flying over storms so be sure to keep your seat belts securely fastened” or “We’ve got a great cabin crew today…”; something that you hear each time you fly, but really don’t pay that much attention to. What I heard caused me to stop everything that I felt was important at that instant as did everyone else on the plane. Very sadly, but at the same time everyone on the plane had the extreme honor of carrying home a fallen sailor. The pilot never told us his name. The fallen sailor had his Navy escort taking him home to his family for his final rest.
Perhaps you have heard a pilot make an announcement such as that on a flight that you’ve been on, but never before had I heard that announcement. The pilot spoke solemnly and respectfully of the sailor that had fallen, his escort in uniform quietly sitting alone in the front row we all listened attentively to the pilot. I’ve never heard such quiet during a pilot’s announcement. Everyone stopped and listened; people loudly on cell phones stopped talking; not a sound was being made. After the pilot spoke everyone on board began to softly clap hands for the fallen soldier. The rest of the flight was one of the quietest flights I’ve ever experienced.
You read in newspapers or hear on your local news of fallen soldiers who lay down their lives for each of us and our country every day. Although I do not have any military experience, my father and oldest brother served and I always say a quick prayer. But in this experience it really brought into focus the idea of sacrifice and how little of the various things that we feel are important in our daily lives really are in comparison.
The pilot made another announcement before we landed asking everyone to remain seated after the plane landed and stopped at the gate; allowing him and the Navy escort to leave the plane in respect. No one moved or made a sound after we landed and arrived at the gate. Everyone quietly sat and watched the very young sailor in the first row stand, put on his uniform jacket and wait for the pilot to come out from the cockpit. When the captain opened the door and stood next to the Navy escort they saluted each other and slowly walked off the plane. Still no one moved until the flight attendant thanked everyone for their cooperation and everyone quietly exited the plane.
Whenever I walk through an airport I thank soldiers in their camouflage uniforms for their service. The response is always, “Thank you sir.” I keep thinking about the honor of being on a plane with someone who was prepared to give his life in service to our country and paid the ultimate sacrifice. A thank you doesn’t suffice.