For Delta tower operations manager Tammy Lamich, “Delta family” has always been literal: She met her husband, Stephan, an In-Flight Service manager, 27 years ago while working in DTW. They moved together with Delta when she was offered a promotion to manager in tower operations at LAX. Her cousin is a Delta mechanic at MSP. His son married a Delta flight attendant. Earlier this month, the phrase took on new meaning as the brand that connects the world helped make a family whole again.
“This is like a made-for-TV movie,” she said.
Lamich’s tale begins long before she was born in 1950, when her father, Thomas Hill, was 10 years old. Tom’s Detroit-rooted family is a proud military family of 13 children; the five boys served in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Back then, his brother Jimmy shipped off to Germany, Johnnie to Japan. Later, Johnnie would be sent to Korea at the outset of the Korean War.
Jimmy eventually came home. Johnnie didn’t.
He was last heard from at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950, a bloody two-week campaign in the dead of winter that pitted U.S., U.N. and South Korean fighting forces against North Korean and Chinese troops.
A fellow soldier, Albert, had bonded with Johnnie over their love for their hometown of Detroit. Albert visited the family not long after the battle, telling them he believed Johnnie had been taken prisoner. The meeting was fateful, and not only for the closure it brought Johnnie’s parents: While there, Albert met Johnnie’s sister June. They would later marry and have six children together.
Years passed, then decades. Families grew. Grandchildren came. And still, no word from Johnnie.
Tammy’s grandparents remained in Detroit for 30 years, hoping against all odds their son would return home. Tammy’s grandmother lived to 102, and her longing for answers never waned.
As time went on, the family worked with the U.S. Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), hoping that Johnnie’s remains might one day be recovered and returned to the U.S. One of Johnnie’s sisters provided a DNA sample to help with identification. The DPAA’s mission is to account for all Americans who went missing while serving their country, with efforts ongoing to recover the remains of missing soldiers dating to World War II.
In May 2020, on Tammy’s father’s 80th birthday, the call finally came. Johnnie’s remains had been found. Seventy years later, the family would be reunited. It seemed only fitting to the family that he come home aboard a Delta aircraft – a request granted by the U.S. government.
On Monday, Aug. 9, Sgt. Jesse (Johnnie) D. Hill flew home.
The fallen soldier was joined in Hawaii by Tammy’s cousin, Army Capt. Richard Ortmann, and Tammy and her husband accompanied them home to Detroit.
Tammy and her family had Johnnie buried on Aug. 13 at Great Lakes Memorial Cemetery in Holly, Michigan, complete with full military honors, a 21-gun salute and a flyover. At last, a long-severed tie had been restored. Tammy’s family was again whole.
“My family has worn MIA (missing in action) bracelets for the last 20 years,” Tammy said.
These relics of decades of dashed hopes had served their purpose. They, too, could be laid to rest.
“We placed those in his final resting place.”
The memorial welcomed members of the family and military. Ninety-two-year-old Marine Capt. Harold J. Barber attended the service, also at the Battle of Chosin, one of the lucky ones who shared a much different journey back home.
“The memorial was beautiful, from the 21-gun salute to a flyover during the service and a bugle player who played Taps. My father was with five of his sisters. The military presented the flag that draped over the coffin to his eldest sister, Sharon, and the governor gave my father the flag that flew over the State Capitol building. Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer had ordered all the flags at half-staff in honor of Johnnie.”
New relics and memories to behold.
A personal note from Tammy to the Delta Family accompanied her uncle home:
“The Delta staff in Honolulu, Los Angeles and Detroit went above and beyond what I could ever imagine for respect of his remains traveling through. Starting in HNL to arriving in LAX where Jeremy Sisneroz, who oversees the Honor Guard, worked with the USO for an unbelievable reception. Jeremy came in on his day off and stayed overnight with the military escort to have a visual of the remains. In DTW, Dan Vella and Todd Cabanaw, their Honor Guard, met the flight with a water cannon salute with the DTWFD and had the military escort to offload the remains.
There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude my family and I have for the respect and dignity of the transport of our loved one. It truly showed the Delta spirit and culture that we instill in our employees and that we all came together as a family to help bring him home to his final resting place.”