Friday, October 20, 2006

AS I SEE IT: The delay of Fight 1099 was a humbling honor

It was spitting rain as we circled Atlanta for what seemed like five or six huge, lazy arcs; we worried about making our connection.

Once safely in our seats on Kansas City-bound Delta Flight 1099, my wife and I relaxed, thinking of the enjoyable weekend we’d just spent with our son and his wife in Virginia.

That’s when Capt. Dan O’Hara announced another delay, something about the cargo hold … ongoing calculations of balance and weight ratios.

“Great,” I thought.

Then O’Hara made another announcement that hushed every passenger on the packed flight and left me ashamed for cussing our delay.

“I want you to know that we are all part of a very solemn journey today,” said O’Hara, a veteran and Naval Academy graduate. We have on board today, the body of a serviceman killed in action in Iraq, Private First Class Shane Austin, an Edgerton, Kan., native.

“I consider it a high honor to be a part of that journey … his final journey home. I hope it is your great honor as well.”

O’Hara asked that the passengers allow him and an honor guard to leave the plane first, so they could oversee the transfer of Austin’s casket. The 19-year old had died Oct. 8 trying to throw an enemy grenade out of his tank.

“I know it gets to people,” O’Hara said later, “but it can also make people stop and consider.”

Another passenger, Ted Steinmeyer described the transfer in a letter to this newspaper:

After “a very somber and thought-provoking ride home … almost everyone on the aircraft lined the terminal windows and paid our respects to Shane and his family.

“… two members of the honor guard uncrated Shane’s casket and draped it with our country’s flag.

“We watched Shane’s mother walk down the line of waiting family members and embrace each one; a show of compassion, strength and composure that most of us could not fathom … a stoic mother providing comfort to other grieving members of her family. The honor guard slowly marched his casket into the hearse.”

From all of us on Flight 1099, thank you Pfc. Shane Austin, for your sacrifice for your country and your crew mates, and thank you Capt. Dan O’Hara for allowing us a role in Shane’s final journey home.


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Mike McGraw is a projects reporter for The Kansas City Star. He lives in Kansas City. Ted Steinmeyer is a regional sales manager. He lives in Leawood.

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