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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Special

#memorialday #blog #avgeek #airline


Dear fellow #AvGeek,
A reminder that next week is Blogging in Formation week — a post every day from your favorite #aviation bloggers!  Next week's theme: "My Most Memorable Flight."  My post, THE SKY FELL, will post Wednesday, June 5.

If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to read the First in our series, "How I Was Brought to Flying," already posted!  Here are the links:

Hotlinks to sites:
05.06.13 iFLYblog - Brent Owens (Intro Post)
05.07.13 Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt 
05.08.13 Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
05.09.13 House of Rapp - Ron Rapp
05.10.13 Airplanista - Dan Pimentel
05.11.13 Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
05.12.13 iFLYblog - Brent Owens

And now . . . .
Ladies and Gentlemen, in honor of our Nation's Fallen, may I humbly present an Encore Presentation of one of my most popular blog posts ever...

Missing Man Formation.
Recently I experienced one of the greatest—and most heart-rending—honors a modern airline pilot can have:  Captaining a flight that is transporting a fallen soldier to his final resting place.

Escorting the hero was a military honor guard consisting of two of the soldier’s comrades, and two young Marines.  Also onboard were the man’s father and a lovely, devastated young woman—girlfriend? Wife? Sister?  I never found out.  I never learned the soldier's name, either.  Or his rank.  Or how or where he died.

But it didn't matter.  Because, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he was ours.  He was us.
Coming on the heels, as it was, of the Aurora movie theatre tragedy, this flight was particularly poignant for all passengers and crew as well.

Comrades and Honor Guard salute the Fallen...
...and then crisply march away...
As soon as our preflight duties were finished, I ordered the gate agents to allow the party onboard.  They were escorted down to the ramp, where they presided over a short ceremony as the casket was loaded into the forward cargo hold.  Simple, precise and crisp, the military detail saluted the casket then made a sharp about face to march away, reminding me of the Missing Man Formation often flown by jet fighters.*

The Missing Man pulls out of formation...
For six hours as we crossed the country, I contemplated my speech.  As Captain of the flight, I was expected to say a few words upon arrival.  At Top of Descent, I took a deep breath and keyed the PA:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.  I’d like you to pay special attention to this announcement.  (pause)  Today we have the great, great honor of escorting one of our fallen soldiers to his final resting place.  
“Also on board, you may have noticed, is a military honor guard as well as family and loved ones of the deceased.  I would like to personally request that, upon arriving at the gate, out of respect for our fallen hero, you remain seated as the party deplanes to meet their loved one planeside.”
And for his loved ones, I saved the best for last.

“And to those of you worried about connections, I would like to say that we are arriving thirty minutes early.  That is because Air Traffic Control, aware of our status as an escort flight, cleared us ‘Direct to Destination’, in honor of our precious cargo.  (deep breath, trying desperately not to choke up)  Ladies and Gentlemen, in my 30-plus years  of flying, I have never witnessed such a gesture.”

It was true.  Despite pushing back from a major hub airport during rush hour, Ground Control cleared us straight to the runway, Tower immediately cleared us for takeoff, and Center direct to his final resting place.

It was my leg.  I am proud to say that, in honor of the fallen, I was able to make one of my smoothest-ever “greaser” landings, and rolled quietly down and off the runway to the gate.

The entire cabin was quiet and still as the solemn party proceeded off the plane.  I emerged from the cockpit just in time for the father to say to me, with tears in his eyes, a quiet, “Thank you.”
“It was an honor,” I replied.  “Take care, sir.”

God paints a gorgeous sunset to welcome the Fallen to his final resting place.
The party had another brief ceremony planeside as the coffin was loaded onto a specially-painted black tug and cart and driven off-airport.

Crew and Passengers' mood: somber and reflective...
Needless to say, the mood among the crew was somber and reflective.  That was, until a small girl, no more than 4, marched up to the cockpit and loudly proclaimed, “Hi, pilots!  My name’s Gwennie!  But really my name’s Gwendolyn!”  Our hearts melted, putty in her charming little hands.

...And then a little passenger's innocent joy breaks the somber mood...

And then it hit me.  That little girl.  So full of joy.  Of innocence.  Of life.  That’s why our hero had sacrificed his.

And it was not in vain.

"To fly West, my friend, is a flight we must all take for a final check."
—Author Unknown**

I did not have the honor of serving my country like my father, brother and nephew.  It is to them—and to our Fallen Hero and his loved ones—that I dedicate this piece.


— — — — — — —
If so, I invite you to COMMENTSHARETWEETLIKE, EMAIL &/or +1 below!

It's right after "Cap'n Aux links and just before the next post.
It looks like this: 
— — — — — — —
*For more info on military escorts, see:
For more info on the Missing Man Formation, see:

Missing Man formation flown by Huey helicopters (traditional for Viet Nam Vets); Missing Man peels off at 1:56 mark. Thank you Allen:
A recent story by Jet Johnny Jet about escorting a fallen soldier:
While doing research, I also stumbled upon a wonderful Captain’s blog, now defunct, with a strikingly similar story: 
Air Traffic Controller Alex shared this beautiful story from the "other side of the mic":
A Controller's Story
**Related poem:
A wonderful music video found by Miss TWA (
Travelin' Soldier

"Mysterious Dancing Lights of Afghanistan"—an incredible phenomena, story and tribute the fallen!

Hotlink to original post (no changes, other than comments that were made):

Next up:
Blogging in Formation Week!
Posts all week beginning Tuesday, June 4

This month's theme: "My Most Memorable Flight"

Cap'n Aux post: Wednesday, June 5 @ 8am


"Launch my career or die?
What the F*&%$ did I just get myself into?"

Hotlinks to sites:
06.04.13 Flight to Success - Karlene Petitt 
06.05.13 Adventures of Cap’n Aux - Eric Auxier
06.06.13 House of Rapp - Ron Rapp
06.07.13 Airplanista - Dan Pimentel
06.08.13 Smart Flight Training - Andrew Hartley
06.09.13 iFLYblog - Brent Owens


Posting June 15 @ 8:00 PHX:

Special Father's Day VLOG & Essay

"Of Dreams, Dared and Dashed, and Death"


Posting June 26 @ 11:00 PHX:
"Around the World in 80 Jumpseats"
A Pilot's Eye View of the World from the Cockpit Jumpseat!




  1. Holy crap - I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes!! What a privilege and honor to be able to do that!! Thanks for sharing that on this very special weekend! And - to all veterans - this is your weekend - thank you for you service! Veterans in other countries certainly do not get the respect and honor that is shown in this great country - that I can personally attest to!

    Thanks again for an awesome post Eric!!

    1. Aw, thanks, Mark! I'm so glad you got to enjoy this!

      I don't like to "recycle" posts too much, but I do like to get the best ones back out there for those of you who may have missed it the first time around.

      And you're right, I think the States have always been good at honoring our veterens--as it should be!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. That was such a touching post Eric! Thank you so very much for sharing it with us on the blog.

    I'd never thought about what happens logistics wise for the transportation of our fallen soliders. Incredible that you got to play a special part in this story.

    This is why pilots make a difference in the lives of thousands of people. Because you and your crew showed up for work, a fallen hero was able to make his way home.

    Thanks again,
    -Swayne Martin

    1. Thank you, Swayne!

      I think our whole crew that day really felt a sense of proud accomplishment, doing something of great importance for our country—and for the family of the fallen!

      Everybody check out Swayne's great blog, "From Private to Professional Pilot," at:

  3. Eric, this was amazing you were able to do this. I have never flown a fallen angel home, but I was traveling as a passenger. Sitting in the back of the plane. Unable to move from my position as they brought him out. Never have I experienced emotion such as this. The woman in front of me, felt the same as we were the last two off the plane.

    A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Oh Cappy........I so remember this "post"....and the song by Dixie chicks...."Travelin' soldier"....that you put...along with . here....kinda puts everything in perspective....about whats important...and not so..important....The trick is to remember each day...of whats really important or not....we get side-tracked....and forget.......knowing one day..we'll get a phone call in the middle of he night...or losing a loved one.......!and we'll be praying for the boring ...everyday...monotony...!!!...Great Job Cappy!!

    1. Thank you, Miss TWA!

      You are so right, the point that each of us can be distracted by the little things in life that don't mean anything...only to lose in a moment that which is most precious!

      So, we must constantly remind each other to not "Sweat the small stuff" and appreciate what we have...and live every day to the fullest--as our men and women in uniform have given us the gift to do!


    3. ...and in that vein, I invite you to check out a new blog, by our newest aviator, Justin C. A Sergeant in the Army, he has just starting his aviation adventure, and determined to make it to the airline flight deck!

      justin, we salute you!

  5. Thank you for this post Eric. I love hearing about the respect given to my brothers and sisters in arms. While the "small stuff in life doesn't matter, it is the small gestures that mean the world to those who serve. Thank you for caring.


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