I was on a flight this week from Atlanta to Boston with my family to go to Block Island for a nice relaxing break. As we were taking our seats on the plane, the Captain came on the speaker and informed us that on board the plane were the remains of a Private First Class who was killed in Afganistan. He asked us to keep him and his family in our prayers as we made the journey to Boston.
Once we landed the flight attendant asked everyone to remain seated so that the military escort could deplane. Never, ever, in all of my years and hundreds (if not thousands) of flights that I have ever taken have I ever witnessed this: No one moved. Not one person rushed to get their bags; No one complained about missing their connection, no one got up. It was silent. Once the escort rose to gather his belongings, only then did people feel that they could show their appreciation for the soldier who was bringing the PFC home. All at once, people clapped in gratitude for the service that he was performing.
As we left the plane and entered into the airport a few minutes later, I looked outside and that is when I stopped in my tracks. Next to plane was a military honor guard, along with fireman, state police and airport workers. All standing in formation, all standing at the ready to honor this young man as he was brought off the plane. Almost the entire plane was looking out the window, most had tears in their eyes (as did I) as we watched this scene. My camera was in my bag, in my hand. I looked down and thought about it. Should I take it out? Should I capture the scene? In the end, I chose not to. I decided instead to put my arms around my own children, to hug them and tell them that I loved them.
Did I miss what was sure to be a moving image? Maybe. Did I fail as a photographer? I don’t think so. I knew that it was more important for my children that I be be there for them so that they could understand the importance of what was happening in front of them and for them to honor this young man who had made the greatest sacrifice of all.
As we got on the ferry a few hours later to head over to Block Island, all I could think about as I looked into the fog was this young man, his family, and the loss we as a nation suffered.
As a PS: If you have never seen the HBO movie with Kevin Bacon called Taking Chance, I encourage you to see it. It may be one of the top 10 movies I have ever seen. It is the story of a fallen Marine and his escort. I don’t know if anyone could sit through that movie and not end up with tears streaming down your face. The honor that is given to each fallen solider is not only moving but amazing and makes you proud to be an American.