In defense of Delta

I would like to address the criticism of Delta Airlines and their policy of requesting others not sing the National Anthem during the arrival service of servicemen’s/women’s remains.

To begin,I believe almost all of us recognize the National Anthem as that one song that speaks to who we are as a nation and whose words bring pride to all of those who believe in our country’s values.

Regrettably, however, in the ever-escalating vitriolic political debates that we all seemed to be passionately engaged in, it has by accident become the newest point of contention as the newest measure of one’s own patriotism, depending when and where one chooses to sing or not to sing it. Such is the case here involving Delta.

However one truly feels about the loss of our servicemen/women, there is such a sense of heartbreak that we each as persons and collectively as passengers understandably want very much to do something, anything, to express our thanks and appreciation for their sacrifice, including perhaps uplifting the families involved. Singing is but one way.

But a tradition has evolved that is more appropriate and it is one of respectful silence, designed specifically so that each one of us, in that silent reflection, can take full measure of the sacrifice given by those in uniform. And I know of what I speak …

I served as aircrew for 42 years, overlapping 21 years in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve with 35 years as pilot for another major carrier. And in those 35 years of commercial aviation, especially during 16 years in the capacity as “Ship’s Captain” (holdover title from the flying boat days), I saw the same thing each time: Always an honor guard of some sort to board and deplane that serviceman’s/woman’s remains and an accompanying officer or senior enlisted to see that he/she was never alone again.

Always the pilot-in-command addressed the passengers to explain the proceedings, including allowing the boarding of the family and/or accompanying military and the request for silence. And almost always out of sight, the flight crew stood under the wing of the airplane and rendered tribute: Non-military pilots with hand-over-heart and military pilots with a traditional salute, all at attention and often remaining until the family left the tarmac.

While the spirit of singing is welcome, it is, once again, the weight of silence that gives import to this simplest of ceremonies.

Delta Airlines has always been and still is a class airline. And despite the regrettable sniping that sometimes goes on towards commercial carriers for their mistakes, this is one thing that both Delta and the others have done right all along.

In their show of honor and respect, this silence tells us all that there will never be enough words or even the right words to equal what has been given.

Bill Leech
United Airlines, retired
Tyrone, Ga.