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Old 12-22-2006, 01:07 PM   #1  
Gets Weekends Off
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joel payne's Avatar
 
Joined APC: Apr 2006
Position: B767A[ret.]
Posts: 584
Default Last flight home

As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, think about this. A little long, but WORTH the read. From a Delta forum. Much edited to fit limitations.


A Warrior's Last Steps Home

Last Monday I received a call from the Mortuary Affairs Office.
A Second Lieutenant had been killed in Afghanistan and we were to send a person
to escort him home to his family and final resting place. This time it was not
a stranger, it was a young officer whom I knew.

2LT Scott Lundell was a new officer in my previous unit. His patrol was ambushed by vastly superior numbers. Undeterred, 2LT Lundell
moved to counterattack. 2LT Lundell was always a natural leader. From serving
as Student Body President, to serving his church on a foreign mission, to the
battlefields of Afghanistan, 2LT Lundell always was a leader. His heroic
actions saved many lives, yet cost him his own on that day.

I flew to Philadelphia on Thursday. It was my mission to escort and guard this
father, soldier, warrior, husband, and hero on his final journey home.
It was a mission that I wished I had not been offered, but accepted with honor.

The
standard uniform for this assignment is the Army Class "A", but our commander
ordered all members of the honor detail to wear the uniform reserved for our
most revered occasions.


On the table in front of me sat a stack of cases holding the awards 2LT Lundell
had earned. Purple Heart, Bronze Star, combat Action Badge, Paratrooper's
Wings.. and a small, black, velvet bag with the words, "United States of
America" across the front.

I then to opened the black bag and began to inventory the immediate personal
effects of 2LT Lundell. Out of nowhere, somebody hit me in the stomach with a
baseball bat. I felt sick. I could feel the fever coming on, I could feel the
sweat begin to bead on my head, and my hands began to shake. This was now very
real and very personal.

My unsteady hands removed his watch, his dog tags, a challenge coin he had
received from the 3rd Special Forces, and finally a gold wedding band.
Through watery eyes I checked off each of these items on the form. I noticed
Scott had a small plastic tag on his dog tag chain. I saw the familiar words
emblazoned from the Special Operations Memorial in Arlington. It was the
scripture from Isaiah 6:8. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom
shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

At 0500 I boarded a special van with 2LT Lundell and we drove to Philadelphia.
We arrived at the Delta cargo terminal. The driver & I unloaded 2LT Lundell and
entered the office to complete his paperwork to travel home.

I'm not sure if it
was my emotionally dazed look or full dress uniform that caught the eye of the
Delta agent named Michelle. She quickly pulled me aside and asked if I was
escorting. I told her that I was and she took me aside and checked me in for my
flight.

She upgraded my seat to first class, told me my departure gate, instructed me
to use the far left lane of the security screening, and then took my hand and
thanked me. She told me she would come to the gate and help me get to the
tarmac to pick up 2LT Lundell.

I walked to the far left side of the TSA screening and stood in line.
Regulations require I remain in uniform, but the TSA could ask me to remove my
jacket and shoes.
An
agent from TSA quickly noticed me and asked if I was escorting and I nodded. He
opened the line and led me to a lane that was even further to the left.

The agent shook my

hand and thanked me. It was painfully obvious to me that this was something
they had done many times, yet they really went to lengths to make me feel
comfortable.

Michelle met me at the gate and introduced me to Dan, who would take me down to
the tarmac. The crew arrived shortly thereafter. The pilot came and shook my
hand and told me if I needed anything to let him know. He asked if he could
have the other passengers remain seated to allow me to deplane first. I told
him it would be very helpful if he could and that it would save time because
offloading 2LT Lundell is the first thing the baggage handlers would do.

Dan led me down the stairs and I inspected the cardboard shipping container
that protected 2LT Lundell's wooden coffin. There was not doubt it was him.

2LT Lundell was a man larger than life itself. He required
an extra large coffin. It was large enough to hold his body, but not the
character of his spirit nor the love he gave and received.

The baggage handlers were most professional, but unprepared for such a man. Two
of them tried to lift the end of this giant. It took another handler and me to
place the 500+ pounds onto the conveyor to load 2LT Lundell into the hold of
the 757. Once on the conveyor, I stepped back and rendered a salute as I
watched him load into the plane.

I boarded the plane and sat down.
I suppose it takes a couple hours to fly from Philadelphia to
Atlanta, but time for me was a cloud.

As we approached the gate I saw an Honor Guard formed by the baggage handlers.
I had never seen nor heard of anything like this. I was stunned that the
airline would go to such lengths for a fallen soldier. They stood at attention
holding the flags of the United States of America, the Army, Marines, Navy, and
Air Force.

The plane came to a rest and I stood. Not a single person moved. Every
passenger paid tribute to a man that made it possible for them to fly safely
that day. As I exited the aircraft I was immediately greeted by a Delta baggage
handler who told me he was a former Marine. He explained that the employees who
were veterans received special permission from the Department of Defense to
form an Honor Guard so they may honor all of the fallen soldiers as they
transport them home.

We marched to the conveyor and 2LT Lundell was brought to us. We presented arms
as he came down and then the Marine gave a short prayer. We
prayed for Scott, for his family, for me, and for the Lord's protection for all
who place themselves in harm's way to defend our freedom. It took every ounce
of my strength to maintain my composure as I thanked each of them for what they
did that day, for their service to our nation, and for the ceremonies they will
render for the hero's that will pass by them in the future. They gave me the
short program and the prayer and asked me to give it to his wife. Each man had
signed it: Fred Cadwell, James Davis, William Stearns, and Juan Farmer. I
wished I had copied the prayer. A few short words, uttered in front of a few
men, but heard by God.

2LT Lundell was placed on a special cart. Painted dark blue with the emblems of
all branches of the military and these words, "All gave some, some gave all."
"Delta vets honoring our own." We were taken to the employee lounge while we
waited for our flight to SLC.

He took me upstairs so
I could check in. The agent arrived and I asked her if it was possible to move
me closer to the door. She said her computer was not up yet, but she would see
what she could do. I stood watching the cart through the window. I doubted
anybody would notice that one of the baggage carts was very different.

The pilot arrived and immediately walked over to me. I told him how touched I had been with
everything Delta had done.

The crowd around the agent at the desk was gone so I walked over to see if
she was able to move me closer to the door. She handed me a boarding
pass that put me at the back of first class nearest to the door. I thanked her
and went back to watching 2LT Lundell. The baggage handlers came to move him to
prepare to load. The gate agent opened the door and I went down to his cart.

I told the baggage handlers that they needed to get more people. So they
brought two more men over. The pilot stopped what he was doing and came to
assist as well. The pilot helped us load 2LT Lundell and then stood beside me
and rendered a salute as he was placed into the hold of the aircraft.

As we flew to SLC, a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a unit
coin. He said this was from one grunt to another.
He knew why I was in my dress blues and what I was
doing. It was a welcomed gesture of support. I felt I was not as alone on this
part of the journey.

The pilot announced to the flight that they were bringing one of Utah's native
son's home and that I was escorting him. He asked if everyone would allow me to
please exit first. As we taxied to the gate the flight attendants repeated the
request and said how privileged they felt to be able to do so and that they
wished to thank all those who serve and have served our country.

I heard passengers say how only
four flights made it out in the morning. Our plane was full of people who had
rerouted to try to make their destinations. I heard several passengers mention
they had less than 30 minutes to make their connections. I wondered if they
would allow me to move to the door.

Nobody rose; everyone began to applaud at once.
These strangers were bound by a kinship we all shared. We all were part of
bringing 2LT Lundell home to Utah.

The first person I saw when I walked down the stair to the tarmac was BG
Wilson, the Commander of I Corps.

Behind him I saw 2LT Lundell's best friend from Afghanistan. He is a 1LT who
was going through Special Forces training with 2LT Lundell.

This 1LT had brought 2LT Lundell from Afghanistan to the USA. They had served
together and they were close. 2LT Lundell's wife asked him to bring him home
and to come to the funeral.

The Honor Guard now took charge of transporting 2LT Lundell. These were highly
professional NCO's who I had worked with before. I was relieved to see them.
They took a tremendous weight off of my shoulders.

They entered the cargo hold of the plane and removed the protective cardboard
from the casket. They placed the stars of our nation's flag over the left
shoulder and ran the stripes down past his feet. They brought him off the pane
and placed him on a cart.

The cart was escorted by his family, the Honor Guard, and at least six airport
police to a hanger. In the hanger, 2LT Lundell was taken from the cart and
placed into the hearse.

After he was placed into the hearse I saw MG Tarbet. It was obvious that this
was very personal to him. He looked like this was his own son. His
strength was only exceeded by 2LT Lundell's wife.
The ride to the mortuary was somber. Every police officer in the valley must
have been there. I have seen the motorcade when the President of the US visited
Utah and it was nothing compared to what I saw this time.
Every intersection was blocked for the entire 15 mile trip. Police were not
leap frogging to get ahead to the next intersection, they were already there.
It was below freezing, yet there were officers on motorcycles.

When we arrived at the funeral home, the Honor Guard removed 2LT Lundell from
the hearse and took him inside. Once inside, I followed the casket to a back
room. CPT Wiedmeier was the Casualty Assistance Officer and he took care of the
family while I went with 2LT Lundell. My job was easy compared to his.

The funeral home director and his staff only had a few minutes to try to make
any adjustments if needed. We were told, "Viewable for Identification Only".
This would most likely mean a closed casket and no viewing. SGT Parsons had
told me they always down grade the condition to protect the family.

When the casket was opened there was opaque plastic covering his face.
I feared the worst. When it was removed, he looked perfect. The funeral home
people set about their duties while I inspected his uniform. Everything was in
order and they moved him to a viewing room.


The Honor Guard took charge of guarding 2LT Lundell until his funeral.
They would stand vigilant through the night and into the day until he was laid
to final rest.

I found the 1LT who brought 2LT Lundell out of Afghanistan. His wife was
clutching his arm. I thought how she must be thinking how easily the roles
could be reversed and how it could be her husband instead. I talked with him
briefly, offering encouragement and assistance. I'm sure those two spent the
night holding each other closer than they ever have in their lives.

My wife picked me up and took us home. I thought we would hold each other as
well, but when my head hit the pillow I went out. It was not that I was tired
from getting up at 0200; it was that I was emotionally fatigued.

This was one of the greatest honors I've ever had. I wish to never do
this again, but would do so anytime for any soldier.
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Old 12-22-2006, 03:05 PM   #2  
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In our small forum here where we seem to be so quick to compain of our plight and take every opportunity to criticize our peers, 2LT Lundell's story should convey to each of us what is important in life and what isn't. I was touched and saddened by this story and feel even worse knowing that tomorrow there will be another similar story unfold and probably the day after, and the day after that. May God rest his soul and watch over his family.
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Old 12-23-2006, 02:11 AM   #3  
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Joined APC: Mar 2006
Posts: 348
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A very touching story. I was saddened reading it but thank you very much for sharing it. I can't really describe the feeling that rose up in me while reading this, I had goosbumps all over and, well, I can't describe it. May God bless his family and the families of all others that died for us and our freedom. I hope all of you are in a better place now and my prayers go to you!
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