I’ve said it before; we are an industry based in injury, pain and death. People in workers’ compensation are immersed in those elements on a daily basis. Still, at a time when we come full face with a story of personal sacrifice and honor, it all seems to pale in comparison. My flight to Las Vegas was one of those moments.
We have, as I write this, a very important passenger on our plane.
As we settled into our seats for the 4 1/2 hour flight out of Tampa, our Captain came out of the cockpit to stand before us and address the passengers. He explained that our flight, Southwest 3571, was honored to be transporting a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Killed far away on a hostile battlefield in a strange and foreign land, we are taking him on his final leg home.
There is a military honor guard on board, and we have been asked to stay seated upon arrival while they exit the craft to complete their somber mission. It is a brief delay I expect no one will object to.
There have been 2,291 US deaths to date from the Afghanistan theatre. Many of those have found their way home on similar flights with common stories. For the passengers on this flight, it is but a brief and solemn reminder that good people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that freedom will always come at an enormous cost. For our fallen soldier and his family, the saga will continue for some time to come.
No doubt awaiting the arrival of this plane is the family he leaves behind. A family coping with their loss and dealing with their pain, waiting for a loved one to return. They will watch, along with, I suspect, many of the passengers, while the honor guard drapes his coffin with a US flag and gently removes him from the belly of the aircraft. While that story will unfold below, above will exist those of us still engaged in the living of our lives; a strange dichotomy that represents the two worlds of Southwest Flight 3571.
We are all on this plane for a variety of reasons. Vacations, meetings, conferences, reunions,perhaps a marriage or two. No matter the reason for our presence, we are honored to share this time and space with an American hero, a hero who is truly the most important passenger on this plane.
Godspeed, fallen soldier, and to all who cross your path. We are forever indebted to you, and give thanks for the freedom you and others before you have continued to guarantee.