Ready for a tragic story with a beautiful ending? Get your tissue ready.
Imagine you are five years old. It is 1967 and your father is heading off to war. He had enlisted when he was 17 years old but had risen to the rank of Major and was now a pilot. You travel with him with to Love Field in Dallas and give him a big hug goodbye. You hope and you pray that he comes back soon, but it’s Vietnam…and President Johnson is escalating the war. All you know is you want your daddy back.
That was January and by May the letters stopped arriving. You are told that your father is missing in action; that his plane was shot down over enemy territory in Laos.
Did he make it? Will he come back? Is he now a POW? You wait and wait.
Now you’re 12. You get official word that your father is dead. But no body. No remains. Not even a dog tag. Just a presumption from the Air Force.
Your life goes on even though it cannot go on…at least not in the same way.
You become a pilot. You start flying four Southwest. As you travel through the air, you wonder what it might have been like to fly with your father.
Then one day, 52 years later, you receive a call. It’s the Air Force. Your father’s body is being flown to California…and you’re offered the chance to fly his body from Oakland to Dallas.
That’s right, you return to the very same spot 52 years to later that you said goodbye to your father.
This is the true story of Roy Knight Jr. and his son, Southwest Captain Bryan Knight. Perhaps even more moving is that as Knight’s remains were being unloaded, travelers at DAL noticed…and paused. As travelers crowded the window to watch the solemn procession, a usually-bustling airport fell silent. Totally silent. It was a fitting memorial to a man who never received one even though he bravely died for his country in war.
Knight may be home, but he’s not really home. I’m reminded of High Flight, written by John Gillespie Magee Jr. and one of the first things I was asked to memorize when I joined the Air Force.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.
image: Ashlee D. Smith/Southwest Airlines