Passengers Refuse to Give Up Seats for the Family of a Soldier Who Gave His Life

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You know all those wonderful stories of Americans giving up their first class seats for soldiers? Well, here’s a kick in the gut (Hat tip: Thomas Ricks) to a military family, right before Memorial Day:

His name was Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson – although I did not know it when his life brushed mine on March 25 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Lance Cpl. Wilson was not there in the terminal that afternoon; at age 24 and newly married, he had been killed in Afghanistan on March 22 by a roadside bomb. A coincidence of overbooked flights led our lives to intersect for perhaps an hour, one I will never forget.

I did not meet his family that day at the airport, either, although we were there together that evening at the gate, among the crowd hoping to board the oversold flight. I did not know that I had a boarding pass and they did not. I did not know they were trying to get home to hold his funeral, having journeyed to Dover, Del., to meet his casket upon its arrival from Afghanistan.

I also did not know that they already had been stuck for most of the day in another airport because of other oversold flights. But I did not need to know this to realize what they were going through as the event unfolded and to understand the larger cause for it. No matter how we as a nation have relearned the lesson forgotten during Vietnam – that our military men and women and their families deserve all the support we can give them – despite our nation’s fighting two wars in this decade, it is all too easy for most of us to live our lives without having the very great human cost of those wars ever intrude.

But it did intrude heartbreakingly that day at the airport gate. It began simply enough, with the usual call for volunteers: Anyone willing to take a later flight would receive a $500 flight voucher. Then came the announcement none of us was prepared to hear. There was, the airline representative said, a family on their way home from meeting their son’s body as it returned from Afghanistan, and they needed seats on the flight. And there they were, standing beside her, looking at us, waiting to see what we would decide. It wasn’t a hard decision for me; my plans were easily adjusted. I volunteered, as did two women whom I later learned sacrificed important personal plans.

But we three were not enough: Six were needed. So we stood there watching the family – dignified and mute, weighed with grief and fatigue – as the airline representative repeatedly called for assistance for this dead soldier’s family. No one else stepped forward. The calls for volunteers may have lasted only 20 or 30 minutes, but it seemed hours. It was almost unbearable to watch, yet to look away was to see the more than 100 other witnesses to this tragedy who were not moved to help. Then it did become unbearable when, in a voice laced with desperation and tears, the airline representative pleaded, “This young man gave his life for our country, can’t any of you give your seats so his family can get home?” Those words hung in the air. Finally, enough volunteers stepped forward.

I had trouble sleeping that night; I could not get out of my mind the image of the family or the voice pleading for them.When I met my fellow volunteers the next morning at the airport, I found I was not alone. One had gone home and cried, and another had awakened at 3 a.m.; all of us were angry and ashamed that our fellow passengers had not rushed to aid this soldier’s family and consequently had forced them to be on public display in their grief. We worried that this indifference to their son’s sacrifice added to their sorrow.

It turned out my destination was his hometown, so I was able to learn his name and more. I learned he had been a talented graffiti artist and had married his sweetheart, Hannah, the day before he deployed to Afghanistan. They planned a big wedding with family and friends for after he returned home. I learned how proud he was to become a Marine in January 2009. I learned that he and his fellow Marines liked to give the candy they received from home to Afghan children. In sum, I learned that he was the kind of honorable, patriotic young person we want defending our country and how great our loss is that he had to give his life in doing so.

I posted a message to his family on the online condolence book. I told them I was sorry for what they went through in trying to see their son’s body home, but because of it, many more people were going to have heard of Justin and his dedication to his country: I was going to tell everyone I knew about what I had witnessed and tell them his name. And I have.

I thought that was enough, until I received a thank-you note from Lance Cpl. Wilson’s father-in-law.It was a completely humbling experience; he wrote that he was glad I had been able to learn about Justin, and he wanted me to know that Justin “served knowing the risks, but felt it was his obligation and privilege to serve his country.” At that moment, I realized that in this day of an all-volunteer military and a distant war that touches so few of our lives directly, more people should hear the story of Lance Cpl. Wilson and his family.

I’ve thought a lot about what happened that day in the airport, and I choose to believe my fellow passengers were not unfeeling in the face of a soldier’s death and a family’s tragedy. They were just caught off guard – they were totally unprepared to confront the fierce consequences of the war in Afghanistan on their way to Palm Beach on a sunny afternoon.And I believe it was for this reason that people did not rush to the podium to volunteer their seats. It was not that they did not want to, and it was not that they did not think it was the right thing to do. Rather, it was because they were busy trying to assimilate this unexpected confrontation with the irrevocable cost of war and to figure out how to fit doing the right thing into their plans – to fit it into their lives not previously touched by this war. In the end, enough of us figured out how to do the right thing, and it turned out as well as such a painful situation could.

But still I wonder: Barring some momentous personal event that necessitated a seat on that flight, how could any of us even have hesitated? How could we have stopped to weigh any inconvenience to our plans against the sacrifice Lance Cpl. Wilson and his family had made for our country? In such circumstances, it is not a question of recognizing the right thing to do; we should know it is the only thing to do.

From what I have learned of him, in his short life, Lance Cpl. Wilson created a legacy of courage and patriotism that will not be forgotten by those who knew him. I hope there’s a greater legacy as well. I hope through this account of his family’s struggle to see him home, if ever again the war intrudes unbidden on my life or yours, we will know what we must do, and in their honor, and for all those who serve and sacrifice, we will do it.

In Honor of Lcpl. Justin Wilson, a Fallen Marine Hero

84 Responses to “Passengers Refuse to Give Up Seats for the Family of a Soldier Who Gave His Life”

  1. 51

    Smorgasbord It’s because of Marines like Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson and many others in all of the services that went “Over There” to fight OUR battles that we have a CHOICE do give up seats or not. In a lot of other countries you wouldn’t have a choice if someone in the government wanted your seat. Thank you Justin for doing your part in letting some of us be jerks without punishment.

  2. 52

    Dear Smorgasborg
    In a true patriots mind it would never been a choice, It would be considered a duty. While I understand that they fought died and were injured to give us an American way of life, in my mind chioice would never have entered the picture, just as they served and considered it a duty, I would have given my all for them. Maybe I think differently because America allowed me to enter her homeland and allowed me citizenship, nothing is too good to retrn to my adoptive land
    Thank you America

  3. 53

    ilovebeeswarzone hi, I like the way you put it on your 48th: also we need tolerance and concern for thoses who are back with the awfull PTSD, that change some behavior, and we cannot always spot them in a crowd unknown. bye

  4. 54


    RICKZ: hi, the hostess should point a finger at each, and say; ini me ni ma nimo it will be your turn to go. bye 🙄

  5. 55



    RickZ: hi, the hostess should point a finger at each, and say; ini me ni ma nimo it will be your turn to go. bye

    In a perfect world, the passengers in that terminal waiting area would have committed a Roman decimation upon themselves in supplication to appease their ignominy.

  6. 57


    RICKZ: funny i just finish to read your number 5, and i came back down to comment again on that,and saw your last answer,thank’s: i was going to say on the 5″ it makes the militarys SUPERIOR to the common public, and they are too. bye 🙄

  7. 58


    premium_subscriber, subscriber

    This was truly a moving story that Wordsmith posted. I know for a fact that I would have given up my seat, without any hesitation, no matter what was waiting for me at my destination, and I believe many others here, who I’ve had interaction with, would have done the same as well.

    What this story shows though, is that some people truly do honor our service men and women, some people do so at their own convenience, some, regardless of their mantra “I support the troops, but not the war”, are hypocrites, and there are some who don’t give one crap about anyone but themselves.

    Toothfairy has it right when talking about the left and their idiotic saying “it takes a village”, because in a village, one can hang back and let those who will do things, do them. Those passengers on that flight who did not step forward immediately, nor the ones who did so later, are the same people in our country who hang back and let others lead and take the inconvenience upon themselves.

    Thank you Wordsmith, for relating this story to us.

  8. 59


    And as we think about the failure of people to stand up I am reminded how great our nation is by another example.

    Take the time to follow the YOUTUBE Link. Maybe somebody here can put it up on the your site. It is a moment that, like I said in my post, makes me want to grab some leftie by the scruff of the neck and shake him screaming “Screw you. This is still the greatest nation on the planet and the best place to live and raise a family.”

    The video was sent to me by a friend, another former serviceman, who said he did so with tears in his eyes.

    As it should be.

  9. 62


    As the Mother of 3 Marines, I am ashamed and outraged at what our nation is coming to! I love this country, and our nation needs to wake up and realize their freedom is not free! It comes at an extremely high price – the lives of our children. They weren’t forced to serve, they volunteered to serve this country and defend freedom. They give up everything and are willing to die for us. Do they want to? No, but they do! They love their families just like we do, but when duty calls they answer! I am so grateful and thankful and this young Lcpl. will not beforgotten. I pray for our military each day and we need to start standing up and making this nation aware. My heart hurts for his mother. I can only imagine the hole it has left and will always be there. I can’t imagine being on this earth without my children. Every letter from my oldest Marine while in Iraq or Afghanistan always ended with “You are what I am fighting for” May God bless this precious family and all who have lost loved ones in these wars. And may God always bless America! WAKE UP AMERICA! FREEDOM ISN’T FREE!!!!

    Semper Fi Lcpl Wilson you will never beforgotten!

  10. 63


    SEMPERFIMAMABEAR: hi, wow i am so impress and humbled with your comment; MAY GOD PROTECT YOU AND YOUR 3 SONS. i will pray also. bye

  11. 65

    The Jimmy Z Show

    It was utterly classless for the airline to put the family on display. There are many ways to handle this situation. This was the WRONG way.

  12. 66


    @The Jimmy Z Show: My son is in the Air Force and if I was trying to get to his funeral I would want an airline employee to do the same thing this one did. They got all of the family on the plane.

    I respectfully ask how you would have wanted it handled if it were you and your family wanting on the plane and it would be leaving in a few minutes.

  13. 67

    The Jimmy Z Show

    My father is a retired USMC Colonel. There is no way the airline should have had those folks on display. They should have been in a VIP lounge waiting for this flight to see if there would be enough seats turned over to them. There was no dignity here for these folks, if in fact the airline did what was described.

    Further, there are other airlines in the airport. Airlines cross-over all the time when flights get canceled or are overbooked, or in the case of emergencies or bad weather. Every attempt should have been made to get them on any number of flights – again, without having these people put on display to await the decision by some folks who were already ticketed for the flight.

  14. 68


    THE JIMMY Z SHOW: you are absolutly right ,one 100 per cent on this; the AIRLINE took on them to get them in, and where responsible to find the most respecteble avenue for the whole family, should have known the possibility of what happen, even offering money became an insult. bye 🙄

  15. 69


    @The Jimmy Z Show: If it were me needing a seat I personally would want to be out on display. It is much easier to say no to someone we don’t see.

    What I don’t understand is why the airline industry doesn’t start a program of guaranteed seats. It would cost more but that would be YOUR seat. If YOU aren’t there when the plane is ready to take off, they can give it to someone else and you don’t get a refund. Problem solved.

  16. 70


    JZ- I disagree. I don’t think the family was put on display. I’ll bet money the airline folk never envisioned the other passengers basically telling them to go pound sand. Sometimes we are the victims of our own press releases. There have been nothing but good stories about good people doing the right thing.

    The most embarrassed person there had to be the airline rep, who by the account, was shocked by the lack of giving and became desperate.

    I’ve been in that situation, expecting people to step up, and been embarrassed myself by the lack of caring.

    It is human nature to take care of no.1 first. It takes a greater effort to sacrifice and many simply don’t have it in them.

    It is what it is.

  17. 71

    The Jimmy Z Show

    To all: This brings up a really good question: The airline bumps people ALL the time, for many trivial reasons. They could have said, we have an overbooked flight, we need to remove 6 passengers, and we’ll take volunteers first and you’ll get a voucher (or whatever). Then, if they don’t get the 6, they just pick them at random, give them a voucher and that’s that.

    There is NO reason to display the family. You say you would want to be on display, but I doubt that. After what the family has been through, I doubt standing in front of the people waiting to board, hat in hand, wasn’t at all dignified. Personally, I would never stand for it. I would rather wait for a flight the next day than to be presented before a group of passengers in that way.

    Also, you’re asking people to be another kind of hero, and for many different reasons, I can understand that they might not want to wait for another flight. A lot of people have many things going on and everyone feels, naturally, that their lot in life is as important as anyone else’s.

    Personally? If I could I would have given up my seat. But then I got to thinking – what if I had an important Dr. appointment the next day, or a job interview, or my daughter’s recital, or any number of things. My guess is that there were a dozen or more people considering it, but thinking for whatever reason they just couldn’t do it.

    The airline has a multitude of options – and it seems to me, having the family stand there, and announce their plight was the least gracious. Not to be really crass here, but why didn’t they roll out the coffin with the American flag on it, just to really drive the point home? It’s quite amazing that this was handled so poorly, and I think that we presume much when we assume that there were three people who ‘should have’ give up their seats.

  18. 73


    I mentioned before that some of the people could have had a GOOD reason no to give up their seat. The story didn’t say if the Marine’s body was on the plane or not, but I am guessing it was since the family was going HOME.

    Do you know if the casket was on the plane, and if it was mentioned to the other passengers?

  19. 74


    My Grandson is also a Marine and I only hope and pray my family never has to deal with what Lance Corporal Justin Wilson’s family had to deal with.

    Wordsmith, I thank you so much for posting your story, I could barely get through the entire story because I had tears in my eyes. You were very generous and without hesitation. I absolutely know I would have given up my seat as well. I would have been proud to do so. I too would have given the $500 voucher to the family. I know I would have. I am just that kind of person. We should never be paid for doing the right thing. That’s the problem with so many people, they expect to be compensated for doing what they should do just because it is the right thing. Shame on anyone who is not willing to give up their seat for a family of a soldier who died protecting our country!!

    Granny, I totally agree with what you said about the seats.

    RickZ, My idea is for the airlines to block a certain amount of seats such as ten; then when people are booking seats, and they choose those seats; it should state on the airlines web site that the following seats have been designated as “Military Bereavement” seats and that in the possibility of a family needing to attend a funeral of a Military family member, you could be bumped from this seat. This way, the choice to honor our fallen is made for you already. See how easy that would be!

    I also suggest that the people bumped should not receive any compensation from the airlines such as a $500 voucher.

    Smorgasbord, Wordsmith said, and I quote. “I did not know they were trying to get home to hold his funeral, having journeyed to Dover, Del., to meet his casket upon its arrival from Afghanistan.”

    ThomNJ, That was a great idea for people to give up their free airline miles to families or soldiers. I will check that out on the website you posted. However, I just want to say, that I gifted my sister some air miles and it cost me $55 for 3000 miles. WTH?

    DrD, I disagree with what you said and I quote you, ” I think that those who did not respond were speaking out, saying that they do not support the foreign wars that our government has gotten us into.”
    Well who really does? But we are at war and it is what it is. I believe those people who did not respond were like the ostrich with their head in the proverbial sand and have the mentality of “Let George do it”. Those people IMHO, are selfish and self-centered. Ignore it, maybe it will go away. It’s not my problem.. Shame on them!!!!!!

    Rest in peace Lance Corporal Justin Wilson. Thank you for your sacrifice.

  20. 75


    Lsmith536: hi, great idea for the AIRLINE to follow, and every one would agree to that; thank you and to your grandson . bye 🙄

  21. 77




    Wordsmith, I thank you so much for posting your story,

    You know, there seems to be some confusion over the author of this story. I am merely passing along a Washington Times piece, written by Colleen M. Getz (her firsthand experience) linked by Thomas Ricks, a portion of which I blockquoted here, since I thought it was a story worth spreading.


    Do you know if the casket was on the plane, and if it was mentioned to the other passengers?

    I don’t think the casket was on the same plane; I think they were flying out to meet the casket arrival. I could be wrong. Have to reread the story and look into it further.

  22. 79

    Mike OMeara

    I’m also a Marine Corps Veteran and I can’t imagine my family having to go through that. Thanks for what you did and writing about it!

    Please help us in our mission to promote and support Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses by visiting us at Veterans Directory AKA “The Wounded Warrior Directory” is a directory of over 5000 Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses that deserve our support. Thank you for your support!

  23. 80


    I’m revisiting your POST, AND still cry over that story, from 2010,
    WHAT IF they would say, I’m too busy to take a chance on loosing my life if their brother at war would need assistance to end a battle.

  24. 81

    Jennifer Crowley

    I am so bothered to hear this story.
    I am a veteran, but even more so, a wife of a disabled veteran who has gone overseas to 8 conflicts during his 24 years of active duty. He could have easily not come home. I am so sorry for what this family had to go through.
    My husband is now retired and disabled. We waited quite a long time after his retirement to hear about his disability from the military. When we did, we received a letter stating he owed the military almost $28,000 for a separation pay he and his ex wife received back in 1997 (that she ended up keeping). We would gladly pay this back, however, there are 2 situations to this problem…my husband would have stayed in back in 1997, however, his commanding officer failed to do an evaluation and my husband was involuntarily separated, therefore, HAD to reenter the military because he wanted to serve his country, and 2-we just lost our home and can’t afford to pay it.
    My husband has made literally-more than 50 calls, emails, and faxes to DFAS and has been promised numerous call backs from individuals in various departments which have never been received. My husband is still alive…maybe not healthy…but alive, however, I am disgusted at how the military are treated not only by others who give no thought to what our servicemembers have done for them, but who actually make a living by it.

  25. 83

    Paul Hopkins

    As a former soldier I am confused as to why they were not travelling with the casket.

    My main concern about this is not that people did not give up their seats; After all people may have their own important reasons to need a seat. It is not that the airline, through overbooking, assisted in causing this problem in the first place. No, my problem is where was the military support or liaison? Why had the military not assisted in the booking of flights?

    If I were to be cynical I would ask if this story is fully factually accurate. I find it incredible that the parents were not permitted to travel with the casket and as such it is a failure on the military and nobody else.

  26. 84

    Joe Shmoe

    Why should any of the people felt an obligation to give up their seats? They paid for their seats, not the marine’s family. How could you write this article pointing fingers at people for not giving up their paid seats when the military has done a piss poor job taking care of their veterans. Infact, everyone one of the patrons had done a better job supporting the troops by paying their taxes. Hats off to those who gave up their seats; it’s a noble thing to do, but you shouldn’t look down someone for not volunteering. If you’re going to lose sleep over anything, it should be mistreatment of veterans by the millitary.

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