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Memorial Day Remembrance


Don Desfosse
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  • Board of Governors

Team, let us take a moment to reflect on why this, in the USA, is a holiday weekend. For many, this is a weekend of joy and celebrating the freedoms we have with our families and loved ones. Please do not ever forget about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our freedoms and the happiness we enjoy.

 

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans -- the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) -- established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

 

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

 

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

 

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave -- a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.

 

The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation's wars: "Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men."

 

To ensure the sacrifices of America's fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ed and the president signed into law "The National Moment of Remembrance Act," P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission's charter is to "encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity" by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

 

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: "It's a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day."

 

 

May you all enjoy a safe and happy holiday weekend, and give the appropriate thought, remembrance, and consideration to those who went before us, fighting to protect the freedoms we enjoy.

 

And although this is just one story of remembrance, it is one story that continues to move me every time I read it.

 

 

MAY GOD BLESS THIS AIRLINE CAPTAIN:

 

He writes:

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an H.R. on this flight." (H.R. stands for human remains.) "Are they military?" I asked. 'Yes', she said. 'Is there an escort?' I asked. 'Yes, I already [Mod - Happy Thoughts]igned 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, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him 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 our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure.

 

About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin. 'I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is on board', she said. She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was 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 going to wait four 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 our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do.. 'I'm on it', I said. I told her that I would get back to her.

 

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail like messages. I decided to byp[Mod - Happy Thoughts] 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 to the telephone of the dispatcher. I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board 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 message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:

 

'Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your 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. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please p[Mod - Happy Thoughts] our condolences on to the family. Thanks.'

 

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to p[Mod - Happy Thoughts] 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 getting 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 aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp 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 p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]engers. He did that and the ramp controller said, 'Take your time.' I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said, 'Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]enger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]engers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.'

 

We continued the turn 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 just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]enger 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 p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]enger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]engers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of 'God Bless You', 'I'm sorry', 'thank you', 'be proud' and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

 

Many of the p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]engers 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 will 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 States of AMERICA.

 

 

Best wishes for a safe and happy weekend.

Don Desfosse
Vice President, Operations

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