Sweet readers and writers,
Joining in for the fun of Grammy Dee’s fourth short story prompt link party. One of the reasons I continue to blog, is to prompt me to write. Just write. As in Just Write. Link-ups like this one and Laura’s 3 Things posts are encouraging me to do more creative writing. Laura will be taking a break over the summer but will pick up her 3 Things series in the fall. And as per my usual, I am behind on my short story for Grammy Dee’s link-up. I wrote my story on the plane to Kentucky but never had Internet connectivity long enough to type it onto a blog post.
Fourth Short Story Prompt
• Start with the partial sentence below
• Create a short story by adding to the sentence
• Post the story on your blog
• Add your post to our linkup below
• Check out the stories from others, see how they compare to yours
Here’s the prompt for the fourth short story: She closed the book she was reading and turned out the…
and my story…
Hail and Farewell
She closed the book she was reading and turned out the light overhead. The plane was almost completely dark except for the occasional overhead light of a handful of other passengers. Her eyes fell on the reflective strip of blue that ran along the floor from one end of the cabin to the other. She followed it from her seat to the front of the plane where she had passed a young Army sergeant in his dress blue uniform when she had boarded a few hours earlier in El Paso.
If she craned her neck into the aisle just right, she could see the tip of one of his spit-polished patent leather shoes sticking slightly into the passageway. And over the tops of the seats and heads of the other passengers in the rows that separated them, she could see his head facing forward, and imagine his eyes trained on an invisible focal point in the dark.
The flight from El Paso to Atlanta was normally a long one, just under 3 hours. But this plane’s departure had been delayed by a combination of seasonably strong west Texas winds accompanied by a rare electrical storm that made take off unsafe for several hours. Once the rain and lightning moved east, the passengers had boarded quickly. When everyone had settled into their seats and stowed their belongings, the captain came on the speakers to address them.
His voice broke several times as he informed them that a fallen soldier was on board the aircraft in the cargo hold beneath their seats. He explained that the deceased soldier, Specialist Kevin Villacres, was being escorted home by the sergeant in the dress uniform in the front of the plane, Sergeant Zeb Oberlander. The pilot shared that he was a former Navy man and his father had been in the Army before him. Which gave him a soft spot for the military.
The captain asked for the passengers’ cooperation once they landed in Atlanta, stating that Sergeant Oberlander would be allowed to deplane first in order to rejoin the body of the private he was escorting home. The pilot asked all passengers to consider remaining seated until the casket could be removed from the cargo hold and turned over the family on the tarmac. The cabin fell quiet and Captain Joe returned to the cockpit. The plane taxied into the twilight and took off.
As the plane began its descent into Atlanta, she could see the light of the city on the horizon from the window across the aisle. The woman began to feel a nervousness that took her a moment to identify. She glanced down at her cuticles and realized she had chewed them raw with little regard for the manicure she’d gotten earlier in the week. Passengers around her, most of whom had slept all flight, were beginning to stir with the change in cabin pressure. The plane was coming back to life after several hours of quiet in the darkness.
As the aircraft glided down the runway and pulled up between two other planes parked at the terminal, the jittery feeling in her stomach intensified. She became aware of the reason for it. The woman was fairly holding her breath in hopes that all of the plane’s passengers would give Sergeant Oberlander the opportunity to deplane first.
She was relieved when no one around her moved. He rose from his seat and paused just a moment. The soft, muffled applause of the passengers gained momentum as the sergeant adjusted his cap and walked forward. Captain Joe stepped outside the cockpit and extended his hand to the soldier as he passed to exit the plane.
And then came a rumble from the belly of the aircraft. A shifting, the sound of movement. The lights in the cabin area were dimmed. Captain Joe’s voice cracked as he came on the loud speaker again to address the passengers. He asked them for a few additional moments of patience while the baggage handlers removed the casket from underneath.
She wasn’t sure where it started but somewhere between her row and the front of the plane, someone began singing the national anthem. The single voice was soon joined by a chorus of other soft voices about the aircraft.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Outside the windows on the right side of the plane, a flag draped casket emerged and beside it, with one hand resting atop the flag, Sergeant Oberlander.
From the terminal building came a group of people, the family of the fallen soldier. It was difficult to make them out clearly as a light rain had begun to fall and they were partially obscured by large black umbrellas. Judging from the rank of the dead soldier, she guessed he was young.
Several members of the family slipped forward, emerging from beneath the umbrellas and moving toward the casket. One bending to rest a cheek on the casket, the other a hand.
She reached up and turned out her overhead light. The passenger sitting beside her did the same. And in moments, the cabin was completely dark. A last tribute to Specialist Kevin Villacres before the casket was loaded into a small trailer and driven off into the damp, darkness of the night. Hail and farewell.
Have you ever been on a fallen soldier’s final flight home? I had heard disturbing stories of passengers pushing their way off the plane ahead of a military escort for a fallen solider. And have seen videos of that very thing, as well. On this particular flight, despite our delay in leaving El Paso, Captain Joe reassured all of the passengers that no one would miss their connecting flights by the few minutes it would take for Sergeant Oberlander to be reunited with the coffin of Specialist Villacres. I was so relieved that everyone was respectful and patient.
After returning home, I researched Sergeant Oberlander and Specialist Villacres. I also learned that Delta Airlines has an honor guard that meets the planes carrying fallen soldiers.
For anyone who’s witnessed, it’s a solemn sight. A fallen hero in a flag-draped casket on an airport tarmac being escorted home to his or her final resting place. It’s something Brian McConnell stands watch over at least once a week.
The 33-year Delta veteran leads Delta’s Honor Guard, a group of employee volunteers who greet every plane that carries the remains of fallen military service men and women at the Atlanta airport. Many on the team have served in the armed forces themselves. [source]
As Memorial Day approaches, I hope you will take a moment to thank these soldiers and all of our men and women in the military for the sacrifices they make to keep us safe. If you have never seen the movie “Taking Chance” starring Kevin Bacon it is worth watching.
Thank you for joining me today.
Hugs and kisses,