Thursday, December 28, 2006

Re: Remember our armed forces

Martha sent this to me after my previous post. I thought it was fitting to share.
This is Captain Bob Johnson with the Flight Department Hotline for Monday, December 18.
In lieu of our normal weekly recap, I want to share with you a letter we received from FO Gary Blied, written after completing his duties on American Airlines flight #1904, ORD to MIA, on December 3. This is Gary's letter:
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. I spent a few moments in prayer with him.
The Captain and I finished our preflight duties and then went down onto the ramp, 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.
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 shining. As we taxied our aircraft to the gate, the fire trucks saluted our arrival with crossed streams of water shooting over the aircraft.
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 honor guard, 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 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 Saturday morning 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 early that Saturday 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 danger's way. Please remember that they have families back here who live every day in fear of the phone call or 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.
Thanks, Gary. That's all for today.
The letter doesn't show up on snopes but I did find a "confirmation" from a message board. The story is also listed on the Chicago Tribune's blog. I have also not been able to find any other information related to MSgt. Richardson. The DOD has no listing of his death within a week before Dec. 3 and I have not been able to find an obit for him either. There is also no mention of the death of any Shawn Richardson at the Iraqi Coalition Casualties website. Granted, the name may have been changed but not likely. And he may have died while not serving in Iraq, which could explain his lack of mention on the ICasualties website, but that shouldn't leave him off the DOD website.
I did find this blog by a soldier, Shawn Richardson who's last entry was Jan. 2006, but he apparently has already been relieved of duty in Iraq. There's also mention of a Sgt. Shawn Richardson who was a crew member of Marine One.
Maybe I'm just suspicious of this story because it's another example of "dissing the media" for not covering a "good story" from Iraq. Most of the places I've found it copied on the Net introduce it as much. Maybe I'm just uber-sensitive. But I love the story regardless and thanks to Martha for sending it on. We can always hope that it's true.

UPDATE: I did find a link to the flight information for AAL1904 on FlightAware.
The flight apparently took off at 8:50 p.m. CST from Chicago on Dec. 3 2 and arrived at 1:01 a.m. EST in Miami the next morning - Monday. Not Saturday as mentioned in the letter. Maybe a mistaken date by the pilot. Sunday.
2nd UPDATE: I finally found a possible obit for MSgt. Richardson. According to this obit, it could be the same man. The soldier died in Japan on Nov. 25, 2006 and services were held Dec. 9, 2006. As of writing this the pilot is actually on the phone with me verifying the story.
I'll post an update as soon as I finish talking to him.


Anonymous said...

Not sure this is him, but an Air Force MSgt with the same name died about the same time period. The pilot mentions the guy served, but not necessarily that he died in combat.

Jonathan Blundell said...

Thanks. Please read my follow up posts on the issue.