I am addicted to military homecoming videos. I love the one where the dad surprises his son in the middle of a high school football game. I love the videos where parents surprise their kids at school. And, yes, most of all, I love the videos that show a uniformed soldier surprising his loyal dog, who has no concept of time and absolutely no concept of what deployment means. Oh, the joy!
Sometimes I worry, though, that the only thing Veterans Day means to some people is that the mail will not be delivered. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I have become the person who wants to stand up in a crowd, make a speech and wave our flag. I want to tell people about how truly blessed we are to live in a nation where we are free to vote and work and even protest if that’s what strikes our fancy. Essentially, I want to go up to some people and say, “Hey! Do you have any idea how fortunate you are to have the freedom to act like total chuckleheads? That freedom came at a cost!”
Instead of creating a public spectacle of myself, I’m going to pour all that patriotic spirit into a blog post today about some very special people. They are folks who are stepping up to honor our fallen veterans . . . those veterans who will never be able to hear bands playing upon their return home . . . those who will never be featured in a home video, surprising their children, spouses and dogs. Today I’m going to tell you about the Delta Airlines Honor Guard and the Patriot Guard Riders.
Fallen Heroes and Sacred Honors
As much as every military family hopes and prays for a happy reunion, we all know that it doesn’t always happen that way. A group of Delta Airline employees at the Delta hub in Atlanta have found a way to honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. They call themselves the Delta Honor Guard and they volunteer their time to perform what they see as a sacred honor. When the remains of a military veteran are flown home on Delta, the Honor Guard is there.
As the casket of a fallen soldier is unloaded from the cargo hold, the uniformed members of the Honor Guard fall into place. Standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder, they hold an American flag and a flag for each branch of the military. The flags are dropped to a 45-degree angle as the casket leaves the belly of the plane.
As they stand guard at the casket, a prayer is read. The person escorting the remains is handed a Delta Honor Guard coin to be presented to next of kin. The casket is transferred to a cart painted with an American flag.
The Honor Guard has been in place since 2005, and was the brainchild of a Delta employee named Thomas Schenk, who was a baggage handler at that time. Schenk was also a military veteran. The idea was a simple one. In fact, it is so simple that you might wonder how it took so long to come up with the idea of some flags, a prayer, and a little dignity.
I hope that you’ll take a few moments to watch this moving video of the Delta Honor Guard welcoming home two of our fallen soldiers.
Airline employees are not the only ones volunteering to escort fallen service members. You might say that the Patriot Guard Riders pick up where the Delta Honor Guard leaves off. The Patriot Guard Riders have volunteer teams throughout the country. In fact, they have 300,000 members. The Patriot Guard Riders are motorcyclists with a desire to show their respect for those who sacrificed their lives for our country.
It’s a sad commentary on our culture that any family should have to be concerned about protestors at a loved one’s funeral. But that’s where the Patriot Guard Riders come in. They attend the funeral services of fallen military members as invited guests of the families. They are there to show their respect and to shield the mourning family members from protestors.
The group members also make a point of going to the burials of homeless veterans who might not otherwise have many people in attendance. True respect does not have a socioeconomic requirement. The Patriot Guard Riders also greet returning troops and do volunteer work for veterans’ organizations.
Don’t call the Patriot Guard Riders a motorcycle club! They are quick to point out that you don’t have to ride a motorcycle to join their group. You don’t even have to be a veteran. And they don’t care about your political affiliation. The only thing that matters to them is that you have “a deep respect for those who serve our country.”
Many of the Patriot Guard Riders are Vietnam veterans who are hit especially hard by the sight of a flag draped casket. These war-seasoned men wear dark glasses, not to look tough, but to cover their tears.
Like the Delta Honor Guard, the Patriot Guard Riders originated in 2005, and they have vowed to continue until the last American soldier is laid to rest. Watch them in action in this lovely video!
So this Veterans Day, let’s offer a heartfelt thank you to all of our veterans. Thank you, to those who returned home to overjoyed children, spouses and dogs. Thank you, to those who sadly returned home in flag draped caskets. And thank you to those special people who make a point of honoring our veterans every day, not just on November 11th.