The plane takes off from Tokyo.
The night before at dinner one of my sergeants poked fun at me for being a “lawyer” with table manners and using my knife and fork in a deliberate manner as we all enjoyed a steak dinner at the Air Force base that served as our overnight accommodations. It was a memorable evening of camaraderie before our early morning mission. We were in Tokyo because flying straight from Seoul was not an option for our end destination.
Peering through the windows of the C-130 as we approached our landing… Several soldiers snapped pictures even though we were under strict orders not to do so… But who could resist trying to capture that huge mural of Kim Jong Il as we landed in Pyongyang?
Pyongyang. North Korea. I check my collar and my tie and the blue cord of my dress blue uniform even though our time on site will be brief.
The ramp drops. And the North Korean vehicles circle…
Several North Korean vehicles surround the downramp of our aircraft. The Honor Guard contingent that I am part of is not armed. But I assume that the North Koreans are armed. This is the closest that I will come to unfriendly forces in my military service.
One of the North Korean vehicles has a trailer attached bearing several aluminum caskets. Apparently there are American archaeologists in-country recovering the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War. And these caskets contain the remains. I am admittedly skeptical as I lift a casket that weighs far lighter that I expect, yet I am respectful at even the slightest possibility that some remnant of a fallen soldier is contained in this metal box.
We load several caskets into the belly of the plane. We give our solemn salutes. And then we get the hell out of there in less than 10 minutes flat.
We land in Tokyo. We exit the plane carrying our cargo into a solemn ceremony of other soldiers dressed in their most formal attire. Soldiers from Thailand and the Philippines and New Zealand and the Republic of Korea dressed in their formal best. It is a full ceremony of United Nations Command Honor Guard honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War.
This was my Veteran’s Day of the year 2000.
For all who have served, I thank you.