“Ladies and gentlemen, there is a uniformed Marine on this flight. He is accompanying the body of a fallen comrade back to Washington, D.C. When we land, please keep your seats and allow him to deplane first.”
The flight attendant on Delta 1838 from Atlanta to Reagan National Airport repeated the announcement when we landed. No one complained. In fact, I heard no sound at all.
Those of us on the right-hand side of the plane looked out and saw seven Marines standing at attention, a very sad older couple in blue jeans, and a gaggle of airport workers–red jackets, runway workers in bright yellow vests, and gate agents in Delta blue–standing respectfully behind the parents.
Looking out, we could see the flag-covered coffin respectfully lowered from the plane. After an interval the Marines slowly marched to the plane and carried the coffin to an SUV that somehow appeared on the apron. They paused before sliding the coffin into the SUV and a white-gloved Marine slowly marched to the parents, said a few words we could not hear, and shook their hands. He slow marched back and his mates loaded their comrade into the vehicle.
I looked around. A young airport worker in a a yellow vest was holding a salute. Sniffling and sobbing surrounded me. My seat mate, a Swiss-born surgeon who had recently become an American citizen, had red eyes. Back outside, another Marine, this one ungloved, perhaps to establish more empathy, shook hands with the parents and said more words unheard on the plane.
The ceremony was completed and we silently entered the terminal.
The passengers on this airplane demonstrated why America is great. While our government might be broken, our country isn’t.