StoryCorps: How An Airline Worker Honors Fallen Military Members At StoryCorps, Brian McConnell said he's found his "calling" as a Delta Honor Guard Coordinator. The volunteer group honors the remains of military members killed in active duty.
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'This Is My Way Of Serving.' How An Airline Worker Honors Fallen Military Members

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'This Is My Way Of Serving.' How An Airline Worker Honors Fallen Military Members

'This Is My Way Of Serving.' How An Airline Worker Honors Fallen Military Members

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/924214738/924868658" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, which amplifies stories about service members and their families. Today, we'll hear from Brian McConnell. He's been an airline worker for almost four decades. Much of that time, he's worked on the ramp, the area where aircraft are refueled, boarded and loaded. But he's taken on other responsibilities, ones that weren't in his original job description.

Brian McConnell runs the Delta Honor Guard, a group of volunteers at the Atlanta airport who greet every plane that carries the remains of a fallen military member. At StoryCorps, he sat down with his wife, Nora, to talk about it.

NORA MCCONNELL: How did you get involved with the Honor Guard?

BRIAN MCCONNELL: Driving across the ramp one day and doing my job, I witnessed some guys taking care of a fallen soldier. They had a blue cart with all the logos from all the military branches. And it said, all gave some; some gave all. And I had to pull over and collect myself because I thought it was just amazing that total strangers could take care of our military fallen.

N MCCONNELL: Can you tell me what you go through to honor these soldiers?

B MCCONNELL: Well, the procedures are once I get a notification, I'll notify everybody on the Honor Guard. We have folks who come from all over the airport - from the bag points, from the gates, from maintenance and even the pilots' group. Sometimes there's 20 of us there. Sometimes there's two of us there. But there's always at least someone to meet every fallen that comes into the Atlanta airport.

We'll cover the casket with a flag. And as they're brought out of the aircraft, the Honor Guard will march up with flags from each branch of the service, at which time I go to the escort - usually someone from their squadron - present them with a card, a coin and a prayer to give to the next of kin.

N MCCONNELL: What makes you so dedicated to do what you do for all of these soldiers and their families?

B MCCONNELL: The No. 1 reason is it's the right thing to do. These folks have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the least we can do is take care of them.

My father served 21 years in the Air Force with a tour of Vietnam. Of course, you know, our son is active-duty Air Force and has served two deployments to Afghanistan. And heaven forbid, should something ever happen to our son, I would hope that whoever is caring for him would care for him with the love and respect and the honor that I would care for their sons and daughters.

N MCCONNELL: Me too.

B MCCONNELL: You've always been a staunch supporter of me with the Honor Guard. And I know sometimes it gets trying when you're sitting in the cellphone lot for three hours past my shift or coming in early or coming in on days off. But I have never once heard you complain, and I truly appreciate that.

Some people say they have a calling in life. I guess I found mine. Although I've never served, I tell people this is my way of serving. And I'm just humbled beyond belief to be a small part of that.

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SIMON: That's Brian McConnell speaking with his wife, Nora, in Atlanta. And their interview is archived with the rest of the StoryCorps collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.

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