Brian and Nora McConnell
Brian McConnell (BM): Ten years ago I got involved with the Honor Guard, and it's the most honorable thing, no pun intended, that I've ever had the honor of doing. And that's caring for our fallen.
Nora McConnell (NM): How did you get involved with the Honor Guard?
BM: Driving across the ramp one day, doing my job. They had a blue cart painted up with all the logos from all the military branches. And it said "Delta Air Lines employees honor our veterans. All gave some; some gave all." And I witnessed some guys taking care of a fallen soldier, and I --"Whew. Wow" had to pull over and collect myself. Because I thought it was just amazing that total strangers could take care of our military fallen. And I was pretty much moved to tears.
NM: Can you tell me what you go through to honor these soldiers?
BM: Well, the procedures are once I get a notification I'll notify everybody on the Honor Guard. We have folks who come from the ramp, from the bag points, from the gates, from ground maintenance, from aircraft maintenance, inflight, and even the pilots group. It's all volunteer. Sometimes there's twenty of us there; sometimes there's two of us there. But there's always at least someone to meet every fallen that comes into the Atlanta airport. We'll cover the fallen with a flag, and as the fallen is brought out of the aircraft the Honor Guard will march up with flags from each branch of the service. Once they get about halfway off the aircraft we'll stop, we'll read a little prayer. Once we're done with that we'll finish bringing the fallen off the aircraft, at which time I go to the escort--usually someone from their unit, their squadron--present them with a card, a coin, and a prayer to give to the next of kin.
NM: What makes you so dedicated to do what you do for all of these soldiers and their families?
BM: Of course you know our son is active-duty Air Force. He's been in just over ten years, and has served two deployments to Afghanistan. And my father served twenty-one years in the Air Force with a tour of Vietnam. I can always remember my father saying how rudely and how horribly they were treated when they come back from Vietnam. And heaven forbid something ever happened to our son, I would hope that whoever's caring for him would 2 care for him with the love and respect and the honor that I would care for their sons and daughters.
NM: Me too.
BM: Probably the number one reason is it's the right thing to do. These folks have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the least we can do is take care of them. Some people say they have a calling in life. I guess I've found mine. You've always been a staunch supporter of me with the Honor Guard. And I know sometimes it gets trying when you're sitting in the cell phone lot for three hours past my shift while I'm taking care of a fallen. Or coming in early because I have one coming off a flight that's getting here at 5:00 in the morning and we usually don't start until 7:30. And in the ten years you've been doing that, I have never once, ever once, heard you complain. I've stood you up on three anniversaries. I've stood you up on three birthdays. And again, no grief, no attitude, and I truly appreciate that, and I love you.
NM: I love you, too.