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A Witness to History

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Once my airplane arrives at the gate, I make it a point to help out our Operations Agents and ask them if they have any Customers in wheelchairs. Often they appreciate the extra set of hands, and it can minimize our scheduled turn time. On a recent Dallas to Lubbock flight, although I didn’t know it at the time, I had the opportunity to bring a very special passenger down to the aircraft.

This elderly, somewhat frail gent and I struck up a conversation as I was pushing his wheelchair, and I discovered he was a WWII Army Air Corp Veteran.  As a retired Navy vet, I have a special respect and admiration for all of our veterans, but especially those from Tom Brokaw’s aptly named “Greatest Generation." I asked him where he had served during the war and he uttered one word: "Tinian." That one word struck me and I had to stop so I could ask him a few questions.

For you WWII history buffs no explanation is needed. For most folks, however, Tinian doesn’t always ring a bell. Tinian Island is in the Western Pacific, and was the base from which the most famous B-29 in military and U.S. history, the Enola Gay, launched to end WWII by dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On direct orders from President Harry Truman,  this mission was the dawn of the atomic age. The overwhelming destruction caused by detonating an atomic bomb was incredible, and led to the Emperor of Japan's unconditional surrender and the war in the Pacific was over some three and a half years after it began with an attack on Pearl Harbor.

My special passenger, Louis McMenamy, told me he was a Navigator on a B-29 based at Tinian Island. He had flown six missions in the B-29 before the war ended.  He remembers watching the Enola Gay take off on its historic mission. Louis is a living witness to a piece of history that affects us all to this very day. You just never know who you’re going to meet on a Southwest flight.

It was my honor to meet him and a privilege to bring his wheelchair to the airplane for his trip home to Lubbock. Another great WWII Texas vet!

9 Comments
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My favorite hero in the military is my son Justin Bradley. He has been over to Iraq twice and now he will be going to Afghanistan soon. I am so hurt to here that he has to go on his third tour. He will be turning 24 in February and will have to spend another birthday without his family over there. I don't understand why he has to go but I will be praying that he goes and comes back home safely. To many of our soldiers are not coming home alive. God Bless our country and soldiers.
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Many of our WWII Veterans are flown to DC via the Honor Flight Network. Southwest does a wonderful job in helping regional Honor Flights such as Chicago out of Midway in getting them to Dulles so they can visit and reflect at their memorial. As a volunteer at Dulles, I spend a lot of time at the SW gate B50 waiting for their flights to welcome them to the nation's capitol. The WWII Vets also get to stop at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles for a tour on their way back to the airport after spending the day downtown. They are delighted to see the Enola Gay and many aircraft from the time -- American, British, German and Japanese planes. I'm glad you had the opportunity to spend even those precious minutes with a veteran. I bet you really made his day. The Greatest Generation is a most appreciative generation. Thank you for the kindness you showed him.
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Great story and thanks for sharing with the rest of us. I think there is a tendency to ignore the elderly when in reality, there are gems to be found. Fred
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...I called him Pa. He was most likely responsible for helping Jews to escape during WWII. He died of a stroke in his early 60's. ...I called him Dad. He was a hero to me because he stayed in for 20 years despite some of the drawbacks of military life & never complained. After that, he became a Southwest pilot & absolutely loved it! He died much too soon at the age of 51. ...I called him Grandpa. We was a bombardier in WWII and fought in the Korean war. He lived to the ripe old age of 94. ...I call him Morfar (mother's father in Swedish). He was the navigator on a bomber in WWII and is still so grateful to and fond of the military. He lives in a VA nursing home. These are my military heros.
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My father, Fred is also a WWII Army Air Corps veteran, and he will be flying on a Southwest flight, December 20, 2011. Coming to visit us for the holidays five days after his 90th birthday! Returning on a Southwest flight too! (We LOVE the fact that the folks don't have to carry their bags onto the plane and don't have to pay extra to check them. Among other reasons.) What these men did was just amazing. Kids, mostly, in their early 20s.
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I was on Flight 1166 from Las Vegas to Midway on 20 November with approximately 40 Air Force personnel from Creech AFB on their way to Afghanastan for a four month deployment. As we taxied the flight attendant announced their presence and every passenger applauded their service. When we landed in Chicago she announced again Southwest's commitment to our service members and asked if we would allow them to deplane first. The applause started and did not stop until the last servicemember was off the plane. With tears in her eyes this senior person stood at the cockpit door with her coworker applauding their efforts. I'm sure many others were emotional also. Thank you Southwest from a retired Air Force Master Sergeant.
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I want to say thank you to a true hero.My boy just served 6 years in the Air Force and served in Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq.
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This story is especially touching to me because my uncle, Raymond Gallagher, was a tailgunner on the Enola Gay. I remember the many stories my uncle told us about the 'secret mission' that they could never talk about until after the fact. I will never forget the amazing photos that he shared with us, that were taken from/on the Enola Gay. God Bless all who have served, are serving, and continue to serve our great nation. Thank you very much for all that you do. It IS very much appreciated! Here's hoping those who are currently serving, come home very soon.
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The elderly gentleman in this post is my grandad. I am proud and honored to have such a wonderful grandad. He and my grandmother will only fly southwest because of the helpful employees that greet them on every leg of every flight.