A soldier's last flight hits home
An otherwise routine flight to Logan International Airport became special when John J. McSheffrey witnessed a fallen soldier receive the respect he deserved. (John J. McSheffrey Jr. / Cellphone photo)
ON THE EVENING of Feb. 27, I boarded Delta Airlines Flight 1220 from Atlanta to Boston. It was roughly the 25th time this year that I have boarded a plane, and the process has become all too routine -- attending long business meetings, trying to get an earlier flight, dealing with security lines and crowded planes, all in hopes of getting home in time to see the kids before they fall asleep.
Yet however mundane that Tuesday evening flight was for me, it was anything but for a young soldier for whom Flight 1220 was the last leg of his journey home after being killed in Iraq.
Most of us are insulated and protected from the hard realities of the war because our government tries very hard to hide from us what I witnessed that night.
After we were in the air, the pilot announced that the Navy captain on board was escorting home the body of a soldier who had died in Iraq.
When we landed at Logan Airport, the pilot made another announcement. Don't be alarmed by the flashing lights, he said. He explained that the Logan Fire Department had formed a color guard to honor the soldier.
I witnessed the Navy captain crying as he received an ovation from the passengers on Flight 1220.
I witnessed outside my window the slow process of ensuring that the body of the fallen soldier was treated with the respect he deserved.
On most flights, as soon as that bulkhead door opens, there is a scramble to get off the plane. On Flight 1220, even though the door was open, an entire planeload of adults sat silently, waiting for the body to be removed. I witnessed the flag-draped coffin of one of our finest slowly carried away by six Navy officers.
I did not witness a single dry eye on the plane. I heard a woman nearby say, "Why must America's most honorable die for a decision made under less than honorable pretenses?"
I will never forget what I saw that night: real pain and sorrow from average Americans for a young soldier whom none of us have ever met.
Somewhere out there are this boy's parents, deeply mourning their loss. Sadly, our government's efforts haven't just insulated the public from the mounting losses; the families of the soldiers are unable to see and feel the people who mourn alongside them.
The leaders on Capitol Hill continue to fight about if and when to bring our troops home from the Iraqi debacle. But until they make the correct decision, our soldiers will continue to come home one by one -- in the cargo holds of planes just like Delta Flight 1220.
John J. McSheffrey Jr. is vice president of MIJA Inc. in Rockland.