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 passenger 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 onboard are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers 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 passenger 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 passenger slowly started to clap their hands. Moments later more passengers 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 the loved one lost.
I never did see the family. Another soldier died, another family grieved and we did what we could. That is the way it works sometimes. I get a call from the cabin and we work as a team to do what we can. That day everybody from the flight crew, to the operations center, to the 184 passengers onboard, we did what we could. Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I made. They were just words, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring that soldier back. I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this day and the sacrifices that millions of men and women have made to ensure our freedom, safety, and the right to live a good life.