The Delta Honor Guard started in 2005 and continues to honor our fallen heroes today. They are a group of Delta Employee Volunteers. They hold a brief ceremony amid the bustle of ground operations at the airport as the casket is unloaded from the belly of the plane.
Volunteers in blue jumpsuits line up holding flags — including one for each branch of service and an American flag — and dip them to a 45-degree angle as the casket emerges. Afterward, they read a prayer; give the escort a special Delta Honor Guard coin to be passed onto the next of kin, and the casket is transferred to a special flag-painted cart.
It’s an effort started back in 2005 by Thomas Schenk, who was a Delta baggage handler and military veteran. After Schenk left Delta, another baggage handler took over.
Though some veterans among Delta’s work force have reservations about participating, after they join, “it’s like therapy to them. They’re the first ones there,” McConnell, a volunteer, said. “It’s absolutely from the heart. Nobody gets anything, nobody expects anything.”
After Schenk started the Honor Guard, a veterans group contributed flags and other items. Since then, Delta has given financial assistance to the group, paying for new flags, holsters, hats, a caisson-shaped cart painted with the American flag and the Delta Honor Guard coin. Employees in other parts of Delta — from the paint shop to the maintenance operation – also pitch in whenever help is needed with equipment.
The Honor Guard now has multiple carts in addition to the flag-painted one that was specially designed for transport of the veterans’ caskets.
“Delta supports this wholeheartedly,” said Kay Smith, a coordinator for Delta’s operation at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
While an escort accompanies the casket, there are often no family members present.
Though most of the caskets the Honor Guard handles are veterans — including some from wars decades ago whose remains were recently identified at a laboratory in Hawaii — sometimes, Delta handles the remains of active military personnel who were killed in action. Recently, the volunteers handled the remains of someone who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
When an Honor Guard awaits a flight, a crew member on the plane may make an announcement onboard. Passengers on one side of the plane sometimes watch the ceremony from above, as the casket in a nondescript container is unloaded and the flag ceremony begins. But in other cases, passengers may never know that the plane is carrying the remains of a veteran.
The Delta Honor Guard conducts an average of five or six ceremonies a week, on arriving or departing flights. Often, the casket is connected onto another Delta flight to its final destination.
Thank you Delta Honor Guard!