“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Manchester Airport and thank you for flying with us! And for the Military Service Members on board: Welcome home! In the name of the captain and his crew, I want to thank you for your service. We are glad you are back safely and we appreciate your service and your sacrifice to this country.”
It became quiet for a moment. A strange silence. It felt inappropriate to just jump up and grab our stuff from the overhead. Most people must have felt that way.
The two soldiers in the row before me looked down on their seat. I could tell that being on this airplane, surrounded by strangers and confined into a small space hadn’t been easy for them. I could see how they were constantly scanning the rows of passengers, looking for signs that something might be wrong. I could tell that they were somewhat stunned about being back in the US, and how strangely easy and unrealistic everything around them seemed after a long deployment. They were not used to being called out on over speaker. They were not used to people turning their heads to them. They had just done their job.
I don’t know if it was more than a second that this awkward silence where neither the passengers nor the troops know what to do next. I clapped my hands.
The person next to me chimed in. Then someone from the other side of the airplane began to clap. Then a whole group of people in the middle section. For a moment, the flight attendant looked surprised. Then she smiled and started clapping as well.
As the airplane echoed with applause, the soldiers in the row in front of me looked at their seat. Then they looked up.
As if a realization had just come over them, their faces twitched with a small smile, paired with a notion of disbelief. Then they nodded their head, looked at a few passengers directly. They weren’t the first ones to exit the airplane, but as they did, they felt the recognition of everybody around them.
Eventually, all the passengers got up to leave the airplane. Many had tears in their eyes. I think I had, too.
Something strange had happened. Passengers felt connected, stronger together.
They exited the airplane quietly and somehow changed. A magical moment that is hard to forget.
To all my Veteran friends and the many that I had the honor to be connected to over the past years: Thank you!
Thank you for being willing to sacrifice your life and wellbeing for others. Thank you for being willing to take the risk of getting hurt, of loosing your life to protect others. Thank you for trusting me enough to sharing with me the depth of the darkness you felt after you came home. Thank you for giving me the privilege to allow me to lend a hand and doing my part in healing. I know that this took courage, and I respect you for this. And to your families, and the many military families that have been worried and suffering with their loved ones overseas: Thank you for your service and sacrifice. We are very grateful.