Those of us of a certain age remember when flying was actually fun.

I know that seems hard to believe in an era in which you get half-undressed for the TSA and then deal with all the restrictions, crowds and packed airplanes. The stress of traveling by air is now off the charts. I can feel my blood pressure start to creep up as I pack my suitcase, knowing my flight might get canceled, I’ll get stuck in a middle seat next to a crying baby, or my bag will get lost. It has become such an ordeal that I haven’t flown in two years, and I used to fly a lot.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the Pensacola Airport waiting to get going. I kept looking at my watch as the board kept showing my departure time getting pushed back again and again. My connection would be gone. The trip would be a day-long ordeal. My best friend picking me up would get inconvenienced. And nearby some woman with a grating voice was talking on her cell phone, loud enough for everyone to hear all the details of her personal life. The complaints bounced around my head. I’m sitting in the ninth circle of hell.

Then, like a switch being turned off, all the noise in the airport stopped.

No sound from the TV hanging from the ceiling. No one talking. No announcements over the airport public address system.

I stopped reading my book, looked up, and saw everyone moving toward the window that looked out over the tarmac. Had a plane crashed? I got up, walked to the window, and what I saw was chilling.

A casket with an American flag on top, being removed from a plane by members of the military.

The crowd in the airport remained silent as we watched the slow, deliberate movements of the men escorting the casket. Members of the airport crew working on the tarmac stood by. Some saluted as the casket moved by ever so slowly, one-half step at a time. Everyone in the terminal was transfixed at the scene. For perhaps ten minutes we watched as the fallen was moved with such incredible honor and impeccable care. With military precision that turned this simple move into something remarkable.

Time stopped.

I later found out from a veteran friend this is called a “dignified transfer.” While I didn’t shoot any video of the event that day, someone at another airport recorded a similar event. If this doesn’t give you a lump in your throat, nothing will:

People in the terminal returned to their seats when the ceremony was over.

It remained quiet.

On that flight, no one complained about anything and I hardly heard anyone talking. People were deeply moved, obviously reflecting on what they had just seen. I wish there had been an announcement about the identity of the hero in the casket, so I sat there wondering about that person’s story. Like so many who have given their lives defending this country, we don’t always know their names, only the results of their sacrifices.

The freedoms we enjoy.

Randy Tatano lives in Brewton and is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow, and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].