One War Hero’s Humiliation at the Hands of Delta Airlines

“Honor to the Soldier, and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause,” wrote Abraham Lincoln on December 2, 1863, in a letter to a committee organizing a recruitment event that would also celebrate recent Union victories. “Honor also,” Lincoln went on, “to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause – honor to him, only less than to him, who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the storms of battle.”

Last week a Washington Post article by Annie Groer reported on Marine Lance Corporal Christian Brown, who lost both his legs when he stepped on a mine in Afghanistan on December 13, 2011, and has spent much of the last year at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, learning to walk on prosthetic legs. On December 9 of this year, reported Groer, Brown, suffering from a high fever, boarded a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington, on his way back to Walter Reed.

One might have expected the cabin crew to treat him with some dignity. When another passenger on the plane, retired Army Colonel Nickey Knighton, saw him boarding, after everyone else had been seated, she assumed he would be given a front-row seat for reasons of comfort and safety.  Instead, the flight attendants wheeled Brown to a back-row seat in a clunky little wheelchair that, according to the customer-care report that a livid Knighton later submitted to the airline, “bumped up against stationary aisle seats” along the way. Brown, wrote Knighton, “was visibly upset….Tears ran down his face, but he did not cry out loud.” Two first-class passengers, observing Brown’s situation, invited him to take their seats; other vets on the plane urged the Delta crew to let the injured hero take one of them up on the offer.  But the flight attendants, apparently impatient to get the plane aloft, said no.  Another passenger, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Gafford, told Groer that “this crew treated Chris worse than you’d treat any thing….I have seen a lot of things and have seen a lot of guys die, but I have never seen a Marine cry.” Gafford quoted Brown as saying: “I have given everything that I can give and this is the way I am being treated? This is how I will be treated for the rest of my life?”

Groer suggests that in order to avoid such situations in the future, Delta may have to puts its employees through “comprehensive sensitivity training.” It’s a sad commentary on American society today that adults in positions of responsibility need to take a course to find out that you don’t treat a disabled soldier that way.  One recoils, however, even at the word sensitivity.  Sensitivity, nothing.  What about respect?  What about appreciation?  What, for that matter, about memory?  How can people working on a passenger plane, of all things, not have a special esteem for a man who has put his life on the line, and made a major sacrifice, to help prevent another 9/11?  Have they already forgotten what actually happened that day?

I only just recently caught up with a documentary that came out last year. Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good, produced and directed by Jonathan Flora, shows us what the actor Gary Sinise, who starred in Apollo 13, won a Golden Globe for playing Harry Truman in a TV movie, and since 2004 has been a regular on CSI New York, has been doing with his spare time since 9/11.  Sinise, who comes from a military family, responded to the 9/11 attacks by forming a classic-rock cover band that since 2003 has performed frequently at military installations in the U.S. and elsewhere, at military hospitals and charity benefits, and of course in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The group is called Lt. Dan Band because, prior to his CSI stint, most service members didn’t know his name but recognized him as Lieutenant Dan Taylor, the Oscar-nominated role he played in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.

The film, which takes its subtitle from the Lincoln letter I quoted up front, is a mixed bag: part history of the band, part concert video, and part up-close-and-personal portrait of Sinise, whose near-reverence for American military personnel is palpable and heartening. It was his idea to make his CSI character a former Marine: “I wanted him to be a good leader,” he explains.  The film is also part history, tipping its hat to Bob Hope and other top stars who entertained U.S. troops during previous wars, and reminding us of the shameful reception that many veterans received when they returned home from Vietnam.  One of Sinise’s goals, he says, is to help make sure that nothing like that happens to the present generation of military heroes.  (Alas, if Lance Corporal Brown’s experience with Delta the other day is any indication of things to come, Sinise has his work cut out for him.)

But most of all Lt. Dan Band is a tribute to the armed forces themselves – as well as to the police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who lost their lives on 9/11 and whose memory Sinise has tried to help keep alive. Jon Voight, interviewed by Flora, spells out the message: “While we may play those guys, we are not the real thing. And we need to pay our respects to the real thing.” This should, of course, be a blindingly obvious point – but in a time when Hollywood’s movers and shakers tend to pay (at best) lip service to the idea of honoring our troops, and tend to see themselves as America’s premier moral teachers and exemplars, it’s anything but.  If countless men and women in uniform are grateful to Sinise (a fact that is established beyond a doubt by the many enthusiastic audience comments Flora records), it’s not just because of his music, but, even moreso, because his efforts demonstrate that he’s one U.S. civilian who knows who the real heroes are – something that none of us, to be sure, whether Hollywood stars or Delta flight attendants, should have to be told.

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  • Mary Sue

    What is wrong with stewardesses these days on Delta?

    By the way, I have noticed that "Sensitivity" has pretty much completely supplanted "respect" as if it were some sort of substitute.

    • hmmmm

      A little ironic of you to call flight attendants stewardesses, eh?

      • Mary Sue

        why is that ironic?

  • R.C.

    To hell with sensitivity training–that comes from cultural Marxism–we don't need any more of that nonsense!

    Just because a man serves in the military and is injured–does not make him a hero.

    The article is incomplete, I'm still not sure exactly what happened which was so wrong.

    Had I been in a seat favorable to him–I would have been inclined to insist that he take my seat–not ask but insist!

    • Drakken

      It is because he was injured and survived that makes him a hero. He has done what 98% of the US population hasn't, he has served and he like many others deserve and require our heartfelt well earned respect. As a former Marine myself, had I seen what these flight attendents did, I would have completely ignored them and made that Marine Lance Corporal sit in my first class seat.

      • Herbster

        Amen, my friend. As a veteran I was disgusted on reading this article – and will never fly Delta under any circumstances. "Sensitivity training?" To Hell with that leftist claptrap. Don't blame the stewardess – the neck of the bottle is at the top. A company reflects its managemant – at ALL levels. In business, if you get ONE complaint, there are fifty that you never got. The solution here is simple: My advice to Lance Corporal Christian Brown is to hire the best lawyer(s) in the country….and SUE THE BAST_RDS! That they'll understand. I'm sure that there are many excellent lawyers who will gladly handle your case Pro Bono. Good luck and God Bless.

        • Fred Rendon Jr

          I am with you Herbster. We have lost respect and our patriotism. Just look at our president. What respect has he shown our way of living. OUr Flag. Now he wasnt to take our guns? Gee I wonder why there air plane maids are ro rude? It is the order of the day i our wonderful country. Until we stop this madman we will not live the American dream.When I returned from Vietnam on TWA we were treated with the utmost respect. And I was a 19 year old kid, not wounded. God bless America. This will continue until we DO something about the status quo.

      • JacksonPearson

        Amen

  • jhstuart

    “Just because a man serves in the military and is injured–does not make him a hero”

    I believe the article states that LCPL Brown stepped on a mine while on combat operations. He was badly wounded not, as you matter-of-fact say, injured. His very presence in such a hostile environment against an enemy who would just a soon kill you as look at you sacrificed something precious to save your worthless ass.

    You might get your jollies parsing noble concepts such as heroism, but from my perspective your ass isn’t worth protecting.

    • jacob

      AND WAY LESS YOURS…!!!!

    • tish59

      To Mary Sue, Drakken, and jhstuart – BEAUTIFULLY stated!

      Teri Varga – Pennsylvania

      • Mary Sue

        :)

      • Drakken

        :)

  • Loyal Achates

    But you caaaan't force the free market to accommodate people just because they're disabled! That's Marxism!

    • JoJoJams

      You're beyond pathetic, Loyal. Let me guess: you're a 20 something young foolish child who still lives at home. If you're not, you sure behave like on. I realize most things are too nuanced for your loony leftist brain at this point in time, so, come back in 20 years after you've grown up some, and we can all talk as adults.

  • John

    As a veteran and airline employee, I agree there were failings involved here, but not just on Delta's part. One does not travel with a fever of 104. That is a symptom that the person is very sick and infectious. Every person on board that plane was potentially exposed to whatever illness the Lance Corporal had.

    • Drakken

      He had a fever as a result of his loss of his legs you dumbazz, he wasn't carrying a infectious disease.

  • Adam

    Flight attendants are essentially waitresses with power. After 9/11 these morons started to think they were important. Little people with power is a very dangerous thing.

  • steve chavez

    MY 83-YEAR OLD MOTHER was on a NO-FLY LIST and she was not allowed to board and taken to a holding area and then questioned. They then gave her seat away to a stand-by but then they approved her for travel. My brother gave up his seat so she could go to a family wedding where she was the great-great grandmother. He missed the event.

    HOW STUPID ARE THESE PEOPLE?

  • SoCalMike

    Never EVER fly DELTA AIRLINES.
    They are the single rudest nastiest collection of thugs and gang members I've ever had the misfortune of flying with. I guarantee I will walk, drive or take a boat before I ever would think of getting on a plane with those pathetic things again.

  • Kath E

    Delta is the worst.
    While waiting for takeoff on Delta and half asleep in my seat , a flight attendant loudly shouted my name and asked where my weapon was. I was dumbfounded. She then explained loudly that I was not allowed to carry a weapon on board and must check it in. In a state of shock I informed her that I did not have a weapon with me. I have never owned a fire arm. Fortunately the passenger next to me had a sense of humor. The rest of the passengers would not look at me for the whole flight.
    By the way, I look and dress like an unremarkable middle aged woman from anywhere USA. Nothing about me stood out that day.
    I complained to Delta and never got an explanation.

  • BLJ

    Screw Delta Airlines. Treating any person this way is wrong. This young man sacrificed big time for our country and those idiots running that plane.

  • intrcptr2

    Two observations;
    1. Getting wounded does not make one a hero. THis is not in the least to minimze his service, or what has been taken from him by evil men. Volunteering to serve, and losing a part of himself simply makes him a man, a real man who understands duty and sacrifice probably far better than most.

    2. I presume he was in uniform. But do they treat disabled citizens like this too? Or was this barbarity reserved for a serviceman? I do wonder also why the others didn't simply force the issue; would TSA, or the stewardesses, really have muscled a half-dozen soldiers for demanding proper treatment for another?

    Sinise is a good actor, I like his work. He has earned my respect as an American with his band.

  • Thomas Wells

    Lawsuit.

  • Ghostwriter

    I agree,Mr. Wells. I,too,smell a lawsuit in the air.

  • Eag

    They treat all disabled people like crud. My disabled husband won't fly any more because he is bounced around,dropped and bumped into the seats. Last time they actually lost his wheelchair. We eventually found it, but missed our international flight. There was a time, not so long ago, when disabled people were boarded first , sat near the front and treated with respect. Not any more.

  • Larry

    Remember, with all airlines now, it is not about customer service, respect, nor dignity. It is about money.
    Some one willing to pay more for those seats is worth more than any cripple in thier eyes.

  • Roger T. Horrell

    What does anyone expect with Delta which has hired noted Vietnam War protester (and Canadian citizen at that time) Donald Sutherland to do the voice overs for the "Up" commercials on television?

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    That's one way of bullying, I hope this activity won't be tolerated not only for airline terminals but anywhere, any place . Let's just respect them and mind our own business.