Posted by lex, on December 16, 2006
They say you know a man by his friends. If that’s true, then you also know a warrior by his countrymen:
Captain Jeff Wallace
By First Officer Gary Blied
We were informed at the gate that the remains of MSgt. Shawn Richardson would shortly be loaded on our flight for the trip to Miami. He was a 17 year veteran of the United States Air Force and had been killed in the service of our country. I went down onto the ramp and found the long box appropriately stationed off to the side in a luggage cart.. The curtains on the cart were pulled. It was my honor to spend a few moments in prayer with him.
The captain and I finished our preflight duties and then went back down onto the ramp and checked in with the crew chiefs to observe the loading of MSgt. Richardson. We departed almost an hour late due to our late arrival into Chicago.
We called for push and it was immediately granted. Normally, there’s a wait. We called ground for taxi and again – immediately granted. Normally, there’s a wait. We were cleared onto the runway and for an immediate take off. Passing through about twenty five thousand feet we were further cleared direct OMN (Ormand Beach) which is the first fix on the arrival into Miami. That’s basically a thousand mile straight line and the most direct clearance I’ve ever received to Miami. Not a word was ever said – but people were watching out for us.
The flight to and landing in Miami were uneventful, until we went to turn off the runway. The tower asked us to proceed a little further down where an escort was waiting for us. We did as instructed and a Miami Dade Police cruiser met us on the taxiway. He escorted our American Airlines Boeing 757 to the D terminal. The entire north ramp had been cleared of all aircraft. I’d never seen that either.
As we approached the ramp we noticed the lights. There were at least a half dozen fire trucks, no less than 15 police cars and countless other vehicles. They were all parked in rows with their lights flashing. As we taxied our aircraft to the gate, the fire trucks saluted our arrival with crossed streams of water shooting over the aircraft. My first seven years of service were in the Air Force Crash Fire Rescue Department. There is no higher salute from the fire department.
We parked the aircraft and shut down. After our checklists, Captain Jeff Wallace and I went down to the ramp level and observed the unpacking of the casket, then the dressing with a flag. It was accepted by the bearer team which was comprised of members of the Miami Dade Police Department and Air Force Honor Guard.
After the “present arms” order (when all military and former military render salutes and civilians put their hands over their hearts) and the “order arms” order, when the salutes were finished, I noticed our jet. As I looked up from the ramp level I saw a somber face in every window. Not one of our passengers had moved until our fallen solider had departed the aircraft.
When the procession left the airport, there were two cruisers in front of the hearse and I have no idea how many behind. It was worthy of a presidential motorcade and a fitting and probably all too uncommon show of love and respect for one of our fallen.
And in case I haven’t mentioned this previously – it was 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, we were almost two hours late. Our reception had probably been waiting for hours and I would bet that most of the people on our ramp were not on the clock.
Every now and then you see it: the silent majority that makes this country the best in the world. I was so proud that night. Proud that my fellow citizens on every level worked to get MSgt. Richardson to his final repose. Proud of all the people who showed up on the ramp late that Saturday night and waited hours into Sunday morning to show their respect. Proud of our passengers that they recognized a greater purpose than getting off the jet. And proud that my company, American Airlines, knows how to handle this situation with humility and honor.
As you go through your day, remember that there are thousands of men and women overseas in the service of our country, far from home and in dangers way. Please remember that they have families back here who live every day in fear of the phone call or official visit with the news that their worst nightmare has come true.
Be thankful for their efforts and if you know someone who is in The service – get their address from their family and write them and thank them. It’s the least you can do.
Pilot, American Airlines
Thanks for writing that, Gary. And thanks to you who welcomed MSgt Richardson home.
You know, we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We take it seriously, too. But the Constitution is only a scrap of paper with some wonderful ideas written down on it. At the end of the day, the Constitution is you. It’s us. And as much as we’re grateful that the sacrifices of our comrades are appreciated, much more are we happy that you are worth the sacrifices that we make.
Everyone gives something. Some give everything.