The Honor Flight from CPAC

Touching down at Los Angeles International, on the transcontinental flight from Dulles. Just over five hours, coast-to-coast. Not bad. Even got some work done and caught the last half hour of 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. The pilot welcomes us to L.A. The weather is about 40 degrees warmer than in D.C. Good to be home.

CPAC was fun, but I’m looking forward to seeing my wife and daughter, whom I have not seen in a week, having been in D.C. for the AIPAC conference a few days before. I packed well: I managed to squeeze my luggage into the overhead. I’m not going to waste time: get off the plane, send some emails, find a taxi and beat the traffic.

We reach the gate. Everyone stands up. The pilot comes back on the P.A. “Ladies and gentlemen, please hold on a minute. We have a fallen soldier on our flight. Please take your seats and allow the family to leave the plane first. I’m sorry for the late notice. I was just told now, myself.” Everyone sits down. Everyone is quiet.

Two women stand up in the row right behind me. One middle-aged, one very young. His wife? His sister? They were there right behind me, the whole way. The young woman seems to tear up, knowing everyone is watching, knowing that a pain that was private for five hours across the country has now suddenly become very public.

I want to do something to salute them. I cannot think of anything. Clapping seems crass: applauding them for their sacrifice? So I stand right there in front of my window seat, or try to, with my knee folded on the chair. And I’m weeping, and other passengers are, as well, as the two women move slowly forward through the cabin. 

Someone finally claps. And immediately the entire full flight begins applauding. I can’t imagine it’s much of a consolation to these women, who will never see their son or brother or husband again, who will never see him grow up or old to enjoy what he fought to protect. But it’s the best we can do. It’s what we do. We’re Americans.