Now, I'm a person Blackfive would undoubtedly disapprove of, and so would Chief Warrant Officer Frank Kovacs. But I salute them, and I'm so very deeply ashamed that nothing like this could ever happen here. From Kovacs' diary:
February 17, 2007, 0350 curbside at 24th and M, Washington DC . 16 Degrees with a light breeze. Going home after my second week of freezing temps to my home in SoCal. Fly my aircraft, ride a horse, climb a mountain and get back to living. I'm tired of the cold.
0450 engaging the self-serve ticker machine and it delivers my ticket, baggage tag and boarding pass. Hmmm, that Marine is all dressed up early.? Oh, maybe,,,Hmm, "Good Morning Captain, you're looking sharp."
That Captain now has five others with him, BINGO, I get it, he is not visiting his lady, he's an official escort. How I remember doing that once, CACO duty. I still remember the names of the victim and family, The Bruno Family in Mojave., all of them, wow, that was 24 years ago. I wonder if we will ever know who and why
On board, 0600: "Good morning folks this is the Captain. This morning we have been attending to some additional duties and I apologize for being 10 minutes late for pushback but believe me we will be early to LAX. This morning it is my sad pleasure to announce that 1st LT Jared Landaker USMC will be flying with us to his Big Bear home in Southern California . Jared lost his life over the sky's of Iraq earlier this month and today we have the honor of returning him home along with his Mother, Father, Brother and uncles. Please join me in making the journey comfortable for the Landaker family and their uniformed escort..."
4 hours and 35 minutes later over Big Bear MT, the AB320 makes a left roll and steep bank and then one to the right. Nice touch CAPTAIN. Five minutes out from landing, the Captain, "Ladies and Gents after landing I'm leaving the fasten seatbelt sign on and I ask everyone in advance to yield to the Landaker family. Please remain seated until all members have departed the aircraft. Thank you for your patience, we are 20 minutes early."
On roll out, I notice red lights, emergency vehicles everywhere. We are being escorted directly to our gate, no waiting anywhere, not even a pause. Out the left window, a dozen Marines in full dress blues. Highway Patrol, Police, Fire crews all in full dress with lights on. A true class act by everyone, down to a person from coast to coast. Way to go United Airlines for doing the little things RIGHT, because they are the big things; Air Traffic Control for getting the message, to all law enforcement for your display of brotherhood.
When the family departed the aircraft everyone sat silent, then I heard a lady say, "God Bless You and your Family, Thank You." Then another, then another, then a somber round of applause. The Captain read a prepared note from Mrs. Landaker to the effect, "Thank you all for your patience and heartfelt concern for us and our son. We sincerely appreciate the sentiment. It is nice to have Jared home."
After departing the a/c I found myself along with 30 others from our flight looking for a window. Not a dry eye in the craft. All of us were balling like babies. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. We all stood silent and watched as Jared was taken by his honor guard to an awaiting hearse. Then the motorcade slowly made it's way off the ramp...