After the Captain made the announcement, “immediately all the chatter stopped and everyone on board was virtually silent for the remainder of the flight.”
Delta Flight 629 was packed, and was on track to being a normal flight from Atlanta to Detroit.
Ruth Mahlhotra and the other passengers were settled in to their seats, when an announcement from the Captain’s loudspeaker floored them:
“We have the honor of bringing a fallen soldier home,” he said, and explained that an Honor Guard ceremony would commence as soon as we landed. “Private First Class Curtis J. Wells, 19 years old, was reported Missing in Action in the early 1950’s while serving in the Korean War. The Pentagon recently confirmed his remains were found in Korea, and we are returning them to his family for burial with full military honors.”
Sixty-four years after his death in a foreign land, Private First Class Wells was coming home.
Ruth posted the following on Facebook:
“TODAY I saw something out the airplane window I’ll never forget. As our packed Delta flight from Atlanta on a hectic morning after Labor Day prepared to touch down in Detroit, the captain announced that there was something special about this flight.
‘We have the honor of bringing a fallen soldier home,’ he said, and explained that an Honor Guard ceremony would commence as soon as we landed. ‘Private First Class Curtis J. Wells, 19 years old, was reported Missing In Action in the early 1950’s while serving in the Korean War. The Pentagon recently confirmed his remains were found in Korea, and we are returning them to his family for burial with full military honors.’
Immediately all the chatter stopped and everyone on board was virtually silent for the remainder of the flight. When the plane touched down, a somber applause erupted from passengers. As the flag-draped casket was pulled from the aircraft and flags were displayed behind the military escort, passengers on board strained to look out the airplane windows on the right. The ceremony on the tarmac continued for several minutes, but it felt like time stood still.
‘Curtis J. Wells made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in the Korean War,’ said the captain. ’64 years later, he is coming home.’
Witnessing such respect for a fallen hero and unity around the American flag on an airplane full of diverse people — all coming and going in different directions, yet caught together in a moment of history — is something I will never forget. In a country as divided as ours where friends harshly disagree on who to vote for and where the future seems daunting and uncertain, it was profoundly meaningful to watch an airplane full of strangers unite in this solemn yet unexpected moment, be vividly reminded that freedom is not free, and honor one who gave his life in past conflict so we could experience a future of liberty.
THANK YOU, PFC Wells, for making the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you, Delta, for honoring our military and especially our fallen heroes in this way. And thank you, fellow passengers of Flight 629, for the respect and unity you displayed today. I was deeply moved.”
What a touching moment, one that will likely stay with these passengers for some time.
Rest in Peace, Private First Class Wells.
Credit: Ruth Malhotra