"All gave some, some gave all."
For anyone who’s witnessed, it’s a solemn sight. A fallen hero in a flag-draped casket on an airport tarmac being escorted home to his or her final resting place. It’s something Brian McConnell stands watch over at least once a week.
The 33-year Delta veteran leads Delta’s Honor Guard, a group of employee volunteers who greet every plane that carries the remains of fallen military service men and women at the Atlanta airport. Many on the team have served in the armed forces themselves.
McConnell comes from a long line of servicemen. His father and uncles served and his eldest son is active-duty Air Force. He never served in the military himself, but he sees the Honor Guard as his own way of preserving the dignity of those who have served.
“This is a phenomenal job. It’s heart-wrenching at times. Sometimes it can get a little trying, but the sacrifices these men have made far outweighs anything I’ve got,” he said.
Delta’s Honor Guard has transported soldiers of current conflicts, as well as the repatriated remains of those from foreign conflicts, such as Vietnam, Korea, even World War II. The Guard also pays tribute to first responders, firefighters and law enforcement.
The ceremony is somber and dignified. The casket is pulled from the aircraft, while flags from all five military branches are displayed behind a military escort. McConnell or the lead Honor Guard member will recite a prayer while the remains are secured to a specially-made cart. Then, a Delta Honor Guard coin is presented to the military escort or fallen service member’s next of kin.
“It’s a sobering experience to stand in tribute while customers on board the airplane and in the terminal, as well as the family and escort look on, but it’s our way of serving our country and ensuring our heroes are well cared for on their journey home,” said McConnell.
Since McConnell became involved with the group more than a decade ago, Delta’s Honor Guard has transported more than 3,000 remains home and has grown to include other Delta airport hubs, including Minneapolis, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.