A very emotional moment occurred at the Love Field Airport on Aug. 8.
As a Southwest Airlines plane slowly approached its gate, an announcement was heard in the terminal. An agent explained what, in addition to its normal load of passengers, was onboard the aircraft. Further details revealed this particular flight was an extraordinary one. Tears welled up in the eyes of many terminal passengers who rushed to windows to witness a special “cargo” being unloaded from the aircraft’s belly, perhaps stealing a glance as well of the man delivering it.
More than half a century earlier, US Air Force Major Roy Knight, Jr. had departed that same airport, saying goodbye to his wife and five-year-old son, departing for duty in Vietnam as a combat pilot. It was the last time his family would ever see him alive.
On May 19, 1967, Knight’s A-1E Skyraider aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Laos and crashed to the ground. The pilots of two other US Skyraiders on the same mission reportedly saw no parachute deploy nor heard beeper signals, usually indicative of a downed pilot. While a search-and-rescue mission was mounted, intense enemy fire necessitated a withdrawal. Knight was listed as “Missing in Action” (MIA) until 1974, when his status was changed to “Killed in Action.” Although a major in rank at the time of his loss, Knight was promoted to colonel while in MIA status.
Not until 52 years after Knight’s fateful flight would his remains be recovered. On Aug. 8, those remains were being flown back to Dallas for final burial in Knight’s hometown of Milsaps, located about 200 miles southwest.
But what made Knight’s return home so touching is the footnote to this story: The Southwest plane delivering Knight’s remains to Dallas was being flown by that same five-year-old boy, Bryan Knight, who had waved a final goodbye to his father at that same airport so long ago!
As the plane rolled to a stop, passengers onboard as well as in the terminal looked on in silence. On the airport’s apron, aircraft maintenance personnel stood at attention – a special carrier for transporting the casket at the ready. As an honor guard of six uniformed U.S. Air Force airmen lifted the flag-draped coffin onto the carrier, family members joined them to escort their father’s remains. Time froze for a moment for all observers as honoring a fallen warrior who had long ago made the ultimate sacrifice for country took top priority in everyone’s mind.
Watching a video posted of the event, one cannot help but feel a lump form in the throat. One also would be hard-pressed not to reflect upon the mixed emotions Bryan must have been experiencing that day – both a sense of loss for a father he never had the chance to really get to know, yet also of tremendous pride in the role he was able to play in finally bringing his father home. For the Knight family, bringing him home had clearly become a family affair.
As a veteran who has lost both family and friends to various conflicts, this author – in addition to the heartache felt for Bryan – also felt a flash of anger. While proud to witness the sight of our flag, at that moment so honoring a long-forgotten (save for his own family) hero, the anger felt was for the likes of football player Colin Kaepernick and U.S. women’s soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe who have chosen to so dishonor the flag draped over Colonel Knight’s casket.
That flag represented all that the Knight family had sacrificed as a result of a husband and father’s selfless years of service to country; yet for Kaepernick and Rapinoe, a refusal to honor it during the 52 seconds it takes to play our national anthem has become their disgusting “shtick.” For those capable of sensing the Knight family’s pain, anger is understandably triggered by the selfish acts of two people incapable of recognizing the flag stands for much more than what they naively are unwilling to see. Lost in their shortsightedness is the fact that flag stands for the selfless acts made by many others over more than two centuries of our nation’s history.
One can only wonder whether Kaepernick and Rapinoe, should they visit our Nation’s Capital, might ever feel moved to visit the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall or any of the other monuments there honoring our warriors and their sacrifices. It is doubtful they would feel so inclined.
In the aftermath of having led her team to the women’s FIFA world soccer championship, Rapinoe has accepted an invitation from Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York to tour the House of Representatives. It would be a good opportunity for Rapinoe, should she feel any sense of respect for those who, like Colonel Knight, gave their life for the flag she so dishonors, to visit the Wall. She might even make an effort to do a “rubbing” of Panel 20E Line 45 on the Wall, where Knight’s name is engraved for posterity.
Rapinoe is clearly unwilling to honor the flag. Hopefully, however, she will consider honoring just one of the many warriors who have died for it. If so, she might even suggest to AOC that she accompany her to do likewise.