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Reprehensible conduct.

June 4, 2010

Today, on Facebook, I clicked on a link to this story.  The story of a family, at the worst time of their life, witnessing the true callousness of the American traveling public.  The story of the family of Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson, who had flown to the East Coast to welcome the body of their loved one at Dover.  The story of the family who were trying to get home, to bury that 24 year old, a newly wed, who had been killed in Afghanistan.  The story of the truly reprehensible conduct of a group of travelers, who sat in silence when asked to give up their seats so they could get home.   The story of the ground crew that had to beg, with tears in their voices, for 3 more people to give up their seats so the 6 members of the family, standing in front of them all with their grief apparent, could get home.

I should, I suppose, be used to this by now.  Eight years into two wars, with reports of “compassion fatigue”, with comments to letters to the editor, or articles in magazines,  that tell military families to just shut up, suck it up, quit whining, stop expecting everything for free, I should expect that the “others” won’t do the right thing in that situation.   After all, I just read a retired military officer in a respected military group publication, say just that!

But this.  This horrified me, and I don’t understand the people that could sit in silence and actually LOOK at the grieving family, who had to endure the stares and sliding sideways glances.  HOW?  HOW do Americans NOT stand up en masse and volunteer?  The author, Colleen Getz, tried to excuse the other passengers, saying they were caught off guard.  Off Guard?  Do Americans need to be prepared to do the right thing?  Are we so consumed with our own lives, so inured to the pain going on in front of us, that we just refuse to react to it?

I talked to my husband about it, and he gave me that look, and said “they don’t WANT to know.  They don’t want to see it, they don’t care anymore.”

I guess the flag waving is over, the “support the troops” yellow ribbons on the backs of cars have faded into pale cream with unreadable faint letters, the flags on the houses have become tatty and shredded and been replaced with butterfly banners – at least for them.  The them that could sit and stare at that family, stone faced, and refuse to give up their seats;  the them that get angry when another funeral procession ties up traffic; the  them that want to know why so much money is being spent on military health care, or get angry about subsidized child care.   But we , the One Percenters,   WE understand.  We are tired too, but I know that each and every one of us would have given up our seats.   Right?   I sure hope I’m right.


37 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2010 8:41 pm

    absolutely disgusting…. horrifying! I would GLADLY give up my seat any day of the week and twice on Sunday!

  2. TammyJ permalink
    June 4, 2010 9:50 pm

    I was so angry too. And so sad. I cried. I literally cried…for this family and for so many more… and for this country (which I usually hate to say because I think it sounds overly dramatic)…and I’m so glad you put it into words because I was so overwhelmed I found myself stuttering in my own thoughts.

  3. June 4, 2010 10:00 pm

    my family would have, without hesitation. anyone who wouldn’t? they’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to everything that it means to be an American.

  4. KittyEnglish permalink
    June 5, 2010 1:56 am

    Unfortunately I agree with your husband that that’s exactly what’s going on. The American public want all the glory parades, that’s the ‘war’ they’ll support and take part in but when it comes to the actual nitty gritty, the families ripped up because their loved one paid the ultimate sacrifice, the folks with limbs blown off or so messed up with PTSD or TBI that they can barely function – they don’t want to know.

    I ranted about this about a year or so ago. I believe America is coming in for a hell of a shock when/if they finally bring the troops home because all the stuff that military communities deal with on a regular basis (infidelity, violence, murders, suicide, violence against the host nation population – all of which I’ve seen here in Germany and also in Korea) will be hitting them full in the face. *They* will come across people damaged by those wars, they will experience the mixture of soldier+ PTSD+alcohol in their communities. Then it’ll be their issue too.

    As for people saying that military families should just suck it up and stop whining – you try telling the average civilian ‘No’ over anything and see how much they whine. I’d love to imagine how they’d cope with constantly having their lives uprooted, messed up, not being able to make plans because of last minute missions, diminished career opportunities and basically anything else they seem to take for granted. And any of them who think the military is overpaid can go **** themselves! I don’t know many of them that would work such long hours, put up with being sent away or working for 12 hours without a day off for a year in warzones and for the money they get!!!

    My thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to the family of Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson. I hope the folks in his local community are much better than those unspeakable shits at the airport.

    • TammyJ permalink
      June 5, 2010 8:01 am

      Colorado Springs has already seen what can happen when these traumatized young men return home. We had a rash of murders and other violent crimes perpetrated by soldiers back from the war. When the paper ran an article recently about another group coming home, they ran a lot of the happy welcome home stuff…but also several articles about the problems. It was sad to see the term “bracing for” the return of these soldiers. That being said, other than reading the news, I doubt many in the community really get it.

      • KittyEnglish permalink
        June 5, 2010 8:15 am

        Sounds familiar 😦

        And you’re right, most folks still don’t notice it besides what they read in the newspaper. Still, it’ll be much more widespread in the not too distant future and not nearly as easy for folks that want to pretend war is all about parades and glory to hide from reality.

      • Bill the Skeptic permalink
        June 7, 2010 11:46 am

        A “rash of murders”? How many is a rash?

        • TammyJ permalink
          June 20, 2010 9:07 am

          Bill, I’m trying to find the article that details this. Until I do, I recall it being something like 12 murders committed by 10 returning soldiers. (This is a town of less than 400,000). But I will keep looking for the exact statistics and the link to an excellent article written about it.

  5. June 5, 2010 10:26 am

    That is just such a shame! My husband is always treated so well when he travels… moved to the front of check in lines, upgraded to better seats, etc. etc. Maybe people act better when they see the uniform. I am at least glad to hear that they DID make it home together. The public grows so tired of other peoples losses so quickly. I have friends who think no one should ever mention the war, 9-11, Katrina or anything like that because they are “sick of hearing about it” They were sick of hearing about it after the 3rd or 4th day and they ” wish people would just get over it”. But I don’t see how you completely sweep any event that takes lives on a mass scale under the rug and expect people to never speak of it again because the news bulletins might interupt your soaps. I think that people who don’t potentially face the loss of a loved one on a daily basis except by some fluke accident possibly, really can ever understand. If you haven’t seen a movie called Taking Chance, you should watch it. I blogged about it a year or so ago and I recommend it to everyone. It follows the body of a young soldier home from the war and shows all of the strangers it touches along the way. It’s really an excellent film.

  6. Andrea P permalink
    June 5, 2010 11:04 am

    Don’t blame your actions on PTSD or being “caught off guard”. I don’t care if you are not giving up your seat or killing your spouse. I’ve been through “Combat Stress” (lets get it right people, the Army’s changed the name!) with my husband. Sometimes, people do bad things whether it’s beating your wife or not giving up a seat. We have become a society that cares only about itself, not taking the blame for our own actions. Yes, it’s hard. Whether you have to reschedule your trip or call an MFLC for help. As for teaching the public a lesson by having soldiers come home and do bad things, sure that’ll show em. I volunteer for my hubby to kill me and blame it on combat stress. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? How callous. I’ve seen the havoc that comes from a soldier using PTSD for doing something bad. I’ve seen soldiers who are dealing with bad things. I’ve been there and seen that for those who wake up fighting their spouses, reliving horrors night after night. But those who are good people, they get help. They seek it. They don’t say “Oh well, that’ll teach America”. Don’t use PTSD as a reason to gun down your fellow soldiers who are getting ready to go fight. I was here at Hood when that happened and I’d like to call bs bs. Yes, attitudes suck and I (being a widow and having married into the Army after) know the grief. What gets me, the AIRLINE that made these people stand up and asking others in front of them.

    • KittyEnglish permalink
      June 6, 2010 2:44 pm

      Hi Andrea,

      I wonder if you’re referring to my remarks about PTSD in my previous post and if you are, I think you may have misunderstood what I meant by them. I didn’t mean that folks with PTSD should go out of their way causing trouble to teach folks a lesson (and would be confused how you could read that into what I wrote).

      I simply meant that at the moment, the wars and results of those wars don’t touch the lives of the majority of the American public because they are too far away. However when people start coming back from stations abroad, it’ll no longer be a case of those problems being far away. Those problems will then be in their communities and they’ll have to deal with them. They won’t be able to ignore them anymore. And as unpleasant as it sounds, that in itself will be a lesson for folks.

      That’s all I meant by it. I’m sorry if anything I wrote upset you.

  7. June 5, 2010 11:32 pm

    Sad, but not suprising. When my immediate family members have told me that they are tired of hearing about the struggle, stress, and strain of being married to a two-time Iraq war veteran who may be deployed to Afghanistan next year, and is currently spending about 60 days conducting Warrior Training, (it hasn’t taken their husband away for more than three of the past six years), when a close relative bites back with “you knew what you were getting into,” and another likens my marriage to being a victim of domestic abuse, and wonders : why don’t you just leave? , I know better than to expect any support, compassion, or understanding from the 99.1% who haven’t been touched by the wars. So every time someone tells me that they “support the troops,” I ask, “What, precisely, are you doing to support them and their families?” And the best civilians can do is tell me that they bought a bumper sticker. They bemoan the disaster in the Gulf, but ignore the disaster in the other Gulf.

    • KittyEnglish permalink
      June 6, 2010 2:46 pm

      Yeah, I got that ‘you knew what you were getting into’ from my dad about a week ago. I told him I didn’t. I might have thought I knew what I was getting into but really I hadn’t a bloody clue before I got that ring got on my finger. Then I told him that was a crappy attitude and I could apply it to him when he moans about his heart problems after eating years of fatty foods and knowing where it would lead. After all, he still expects sympathy, right?

      Ok, probably not the best comparison to draw but I knew what would work with my dad and it happened to be that.

      • June 7, 2010 8:57 pm

        Actually, I think it’s a fair comparison. It really shows the callousness of the attitude ‘you knew what you were getting into’ when it comes to military families.


  8. June 7, 2010 12:59 pm

    This is absolutely disgusting! How selfish can a person get!

  9. Future Soldier permalink
    June 7, 2010 1:53 pm

    I hope the individuals who failed to get off the plane for this grieving family enjoyed the best flight of their life, because they acted in a manner in which they were given an inalienable right to stay on the plane while failing to realize that they have such inalienable rights due to the loss of LANCE CPL Wilson and many others who have perished from this earth in defense of such rights.

    The question I ponder thought when I hear about terrible events like this is, does this TRULY represent the nature of our country, or are we just flustered to the point that we easily essentialize our society based off some truly negative, but possibly isolated, incidents? Not that my opinion matters very much, but I tend to think, yes, that people in our country, the 99% of our population who does not have any direct involvement with the military, do enjoy their collective “blanket of freedom” without any notion of sacrifice. But, I think it may have a negative effect if we develop a hard view of this population based off incidents like these. However, I’m sure there is plenty of room for debate in this area.

  10. subversivechurch permalink
    June 7, 2010 2:40 pm

    Did you know Tom Ricks over at Foreign Policy linked to you?

    Since this is a blog by military spouses, I’d be interested to hear your take (and your readers) on a couple of thoughts and questions I’ve been mulling over regarding the general indifference of the American public, highlighted in the story you mention.

    Many comparisons have been made between Iraq/Afgahanistan and Vietnam. Some bear out, others are total crap. At face value, the two conflicts would seem to be different when it comes to American reaction. But…

    I wonder if there really is a difference between the two in this situation. Does the general indifference of the American public concerning Iraq/Afghanistan, only take place because there is no draft, because they don’t have to deal with the results of Iraq/Afghanistan?

    If the American population was forced into dealing with Iraq/Afghanistan on a personal level, would their reaction be the same as it was in the 60s and 70s or would it still be indifference?

    And I wonder if it is better to come home to indifference or anger?

    – mike

  11. A Thing For Army Green permalink
    June 7, 2010 4:36 pm

    I believe, we are a socity that has forgotten what the word sacrifice means. It is after all, an “Instant Gratification” world. As the wife of a soldier who has done 3 yr. long combat tours in the last 5 years, I am as sensitive to it as the rest of you. Military families bleed camoufladge. We understand, we know. We advocate. We are in fact less than 1%, and unfortunately, that has made the other 90% apathetic. There are good people out there who would give up their seats, but it’s obvious, that the reason only 1% of the population serves in our armed forces is due to the fact that sacrificing even an airplane seat is ‘too much’. The good ones already wear uniforms. The one’s who would sacrifice their seat, are the one’s heading to Dover. I was raised to care about my fellow human beings, regardless of political affiliation, military service, location, size, or color. The most difficult thing about this for me is that it wasn’t JUST that it was about one of our own family members, our fallen soldier, but it was about human beings that were in dire need of help, and people left them standing there. If the wounds they suffered would have been openly bleeding, on the outside, then would someone have helped? As I read that article, I bled inside for that family, not only would have given up my seat, I would have rushed to protect them from the glances and stares. I would have directed the airline to seek another means of communication, I would have gone person to person making them ANSWER me with the word NO. I won’t even openly cry in an airport when my huband heads back on mid-tour, or returns from a long time gone. I KNOW people stare. I know people talk. And I know in the back of their heads, they pity, ‘those poor families who’s lives are being torn apart by war.’ I am proud. Of my military families, of the soldiers who proudly serve with my husband and of every person in this country who forwarded that article or shared it this morning. We will only make a change in others, one person at a time. Advocate, talk to people, share, and above all, protect those who need protecting…. we as ordinary people can be warriors too.

  12. Charles permalink
    June 7, 2010 5:56 pm

    So where was the captain of the aircraft in all this? Why did he not simply refuse to fly until three volunteers stepped forward?

  13. Hendermom permalink
    June 7, 2010 8:34 pm

    Unfortunately, we are sweeping much of what comes back from the wars under the rug, already. More veterans have died from suicides than have perished on the battlefields since 2001. Yet people are always surprised when I tell them that.
    I think that people are “tired of hearing about it” because there doesn’t seem to be much they can DO about what’s happening in the wars.
    And I”m still trying to decide if I would have given up my seat on the airplane. I agree with a previous post that said “shame on the airline” for putting people in that position (of being made a spectacle in their grief or made to feel guilty for not wanting to change their plans.) Surely, there were other flights with more open seats.

  14. June 7, 2010 8:56 pm

    Wow, that is a sad story! Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to be reminded of this sometimes and remember that we can all do our part and choose to do the right thing.


  15. June 7, 2010 9:10 pm

    This makes my head spin. When did America forget that soldiers are still dying and families are still grieving?!? Absolutely inexcusable.

  16. June 8, 2010 12:30 am

    That is absolutely horrible, not only that no one would give up their seats (and that we as a country have gotten to be so callous that we don’t “see” pain and suffering anymore) but that the flight crew would make those people stand there while they are begging for seats.

    When I was flying last (it was in 2007) there were a couple of soldiers trying to get home for R&R on a full flight and it was announced over the intercom system. Almost double the amount of people needed were in a line to get off the plane for those soldiers. After they got the correct amount of people off the plane, the soldiers were brought down to the craft. At the end of our flight, they were given the opportunity to deboard first (and did so rather embarrassed) amid a standing ovation. It was touching.

  17. Scott permalink
    June 8, 2010 8:21 am

    This unfortunately is evidence of a growing problem in this country. It is sad, tragic. As an airline, I would have first treated this as an over sold flight and tried to get someone to give up their seats and accomodate them for the change. If that did not work, I would have bumped them and dealt with the complaints/lawsuit later. Not only would that have been the right thing to do for the airline but you can’t but better PR then supporting these families.

  18. Jen permalink
    June 8, 2010 4:56 pm

    I, and certainly almost everyone I consider a friend, would have insisted on volunteering our seats. The behavior of those people on that flight is indeed truly reprehensible, and I hope that it is those people who are the exception, not me.

  19. June 9, 2010 10:32 pm

    Former Marine with family still in the military, so I’d like to think I’d have taken the bump just out of general human decency and kindness. OTOH, the expectation that others should be willing to step up to do that, simply because of a military background and circumstances… I don’t know that I’m on board with that.

    I’m surprised no one puts the blame squarely where it belongs – on the airline industry that as a matter of policy “oversells” and “overbooks” flights, literally selling seats they don’t have. And then, in this case, trying to shame their other customers into correcting a situation brought about by their own policies, amorality and malfeasance.

    • sreysaw permalink
      June 10, 2010 1:00 pm

      I agree totally with Rob! My husband (active duty Marine corps) and I were bumped off a plane just two months ago, heading to his sister’s wedding.

      When I approached the counter, they told me it was “my fault” because I hadn’t checked in 24 hours in advance – I only checked in 13 hours in advance. I told her that I couldn’t check in 24 hours in advance at that time because I was at my husband’s graduation ceremony at TBS and there was no service at the FBI complex.

      What did she say to me? “If it wasn’t you, it would be another sob story.”


      Also, to play devil’s advocate to this whole situation, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to blame all of those people on the plane. Although I do think that the majority of the American public is indifferent and incapable of comprehending the sacrifices military families make every day, I think that this story is more of an illustration of human nature – the mob mentality/tragedy of the commons. It’s why people can be raped in broad daylight without anyone stopping it (see “Genovese syndrome).

  20. A Thing For Army Green permalink
    June 10, 2010 2:35 pm

    I think we’re getting away from the point, yes, the Airline has ultimate responsibility, but they weren’t taking it. Thus, the people, ‘the faces of human nature’ were standing there, in the middle of an emotional undercurrent, watching a family in the depths of dispair who were likely too tired to fight for themselves. They wer waiting for help that never came, they were required to BEG….. I believe the old saying was “Kick them while they’re down”. Comparing a flight to a wedding to that of a family awaiting the body of their soldier returning from war, is little shocking as well. I don’t expect special treatment because I’m a military family, – not to a wedding, or a vacation, or anything else you can throw out there. I DO however expect that anyone who is in the depths of dispair should be reached out to with all that we can. It is that common thread that holds us all together as one….. This situation would have been angering had this been simply a civilian family on their way to a funeral. What drives home the scorn, is that it was a soldier who made the ULTIMATE sacrifice, and those standing there couldn’t make even a small one. That welcoming him home, and saying hello and goodbye at the Dover airport was what may make their healing and grieving process a little easier. If you haven’t seen that welcome home ceremony, you should. And so should everyone in that airport as well as the CEO of whatever airline caused this problem in the first place.

  21. sreysaw permalink
    June 10, 2010 3:29 pm

    I apologize for being unclear. I was in no way meaning to compare our experience with that of the family’s.

    I thought that this post was about something larger than just this family, however – I thought it was about a national attitude of indifference. The only point of that story was to point out that individual’s response to me – that my circumstances as an active duty spouse are in effect the same as everyone else’s. I would attribute this individual callousness to the general idea that the population at large is tired of hearing about the war and doesn’t realize the daily sacrifices of military families. The rudeness I experienced was a minor event. The horror that this family experienced was undoubtedly devastating.

  22. boredwell permalink
    June 20, 2010 2:50 pm

    A few personal observations/parallels of “compassion fatigue:” kids sitting in reserved elderly and handicapped section on mass transit. None will vacate a seat for the man with cane. I was also standing, said to the recumbent sulky, self-absorbed teens, “this man needs to sit,” they glowered, one gave me the bird. No other passenger spoke up. A woman with a cane pushed past a blind person in her eagerness to be the first to disembark at a stop. We all have watched cars drive in front of pedestrians as if they had the right of way at crosswalks. I’ve watched drivers speed by handicapped people stranded in the middle of crosswalks because the light had changed to DON’T WALK and they didn’t have time to make it to the other side. I’m not surprised that these passengers lacked collective empathy for the deceased soldier’s family. Giving up 6 seats might have proved an inconvenience but nothing to compare to the ultimate sacrifice made by that young man. I do not believe compassion should ever be conflated with fatigue. That’s a poor excuse. Only those who are fighting this war and the civilians directly effected by it are entitled to fatigue.


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