David Reynolds: A Story for Christmas

This is a true story. It happened within the past year. Therefore it is not the Christmas Story. But it is about the spirit of Christmas. You may have heard it before. Nonetheless, it is worth a second look during this season of goodwill to all.

The story is from a commercial airline pilot. Our edited version, hopefully, does not distract from its simple message: People are good and when presented with a difficult situation they act accordingly. Here is the story:

A flight attendant came to the pilot and said, “We have HR on board.” (HR stands for Human Remains.) The pilot asked the flight attendant to have the escort board early. He wished to see him.

A young army sergeant entered the flight deck. The pilot asked about his soldier. “My soldier is on his way back to Virginia,” he said. (Military escorts speak of their fallen as if they are still alive.)

The pilot asked if there was anything he could do. The sarge politely said, “No.” They shook hands. The escort went to the back of the plane.

After takeoff, the pilot was told by a flight attendant, “I just found out that the family of the soldier we are carrying is on board. The father, mother, wife and two-year old daughter are escorting their son, husband and father home. And they are upset because they were not able to see the container before leaving.”

The flight was a connecting flight with a four hour lay over. The father asked if it was possible to view his son before his last leg home. The family wanted to witness the body being taken off the plane.

The pilot said he would try. He decided to bypass normal communications. He contacted his flight dispatcher directly. He forwarded the father’s request. The dispatcher said that he would get back to the pilot.

Two hours went by. No word from the ground. The pilot then asked for an update. The reply read: “Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you . . . Upon 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 a private area inside the terminal where the remains can be seen from a ramp. When the connecting flight arrives the family will again be escorted to the ramp to watch the remains being loaded. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family.”

The pilot thanked the ground crew. The message was printed out and given to the father.

After landing at the busy airport, the pilot was told by the ramp controller that all traffic was being held for his plane. Then the pilot realized that once the seat belt sign was turned off all passengers, as usual, would stand at once in their effort to disembark ASAP and thus delay the family.

So the pilot made arrangements to stop short of the gate. He made this announcement, ” Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a passenger on board who deserves your honor and respect. His name in Private ___, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private ___ is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is Sergeant ___. Also on board are his father, mother, wife and daughter. Your flight crew is requesting all passengers remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.”

The plane slowly taxied to the gate and shutdown. The pilot noticed the flight attendants crying. Every passenger was seated. All waited for the family to exit. When the family got up to leave, a single passenger slowly started to clap. Then two. Moments later, more clapping. Then the entire plane. “God bless you . . . I’m sorry . . . Thank you,” and other kind words were quietly spoken to the family as they made their way down the aisle.

Later when the passengers left, they thanked the pilot. Tears were in many an eye.

That is our story for Christmas. Were you surprised at everyone’s reactions? Do you think that this was an unusual, an exceptional plane load of people? Or that it represents the norm, that any pilot, any flight dispatcher, any ramp controller, any airline passenger would have reacted in the same way?

I believe the latter. It was just another fanfare for the common man. Within each of us there is something deep inside that is good and kind. Most of the time it is well hidden. Let’s stop playing hide and seek. There is no need to confine your thoughts and your feelings. Let them out. All of them. Show the world, not just your doctor, that you have a pulse.

Column by David Reynolds

augusta free press news