As the daughter of immigrants from India, Ruth Malhotra says she has a unique perspective on the privilege of living in America. She admits, however, that she is “deeply burdened about the current state” of the country.
“In the past several years I think we've seen a massive decline in terms of societal values, troubling restrictions on free speech and religious liberty, and a disregard for military and law enforcement, and an increasingly polarized electorate with so much division at every level.”
Malhotra points out that it's easy to let the division and disappointment in the current state of affairs overshadow the principles on which America was built:
"It's easy to forget the service and sacrifice that built this nation and continue to keep it the greatest country in the world.
It's also easy to forget that there are still some things that can unite complete strangers from diverse backgrounds."
She was reminded of those unifying moments on a flight to Detroit last week. It was the day after Labor Day — a “hectic Tuesday,” as Malhotra calls it — and she was hoping to switch to an earlier flight.
At the very last minute, she was told that there was a seat available — a window seat in the last row — and she happily took it.
Malhotra, at the time, had no idea of the importance of the flight she was boarding. It wasn't until the flight made its final descent into Detroit that the captain informed them of its significance.
In a Facebook post, Malhotra recalls the captain's announcement:
“We have the honor of bringing a fallen soldier home... Private First Class Curtis J. Wells, 19 years old, was reported Missing In Action in the early 1950’s while serving in the Korean War. The Pentagon recently confirmed his remains were found in Korea, and we are returning them to his family for burial with full military honors.”
Though Malhotra is a frequent flier of Delta Airlines, she had no idea that this Honor Guard program, which transports fallen soldiers home, existed.
The captain explained that a ceremony would be held once they landed. The entire demeanor of the crowded, noisy plane changed:
“Immediately all the chatter stopped and everyone on board was virtually silent for the remainder of the flight. When the plane touched down, a somber applause erupted from passengers. As the flag-draped casket was pulled from the aircraft and flags were displayed behind the military escort, passengers on board strained to look out the airplane windows on the right. The ceremony on the tarmac continued for several minutes, but it felt like time stood still.”
Malhotra says that the experience was somber, and it was a privilege for her to witness something so special:
"Witnessing such respect for a fallen hero and unity around the American flag on an airplane full of diverse people — all coming and going in different directions, yet caught together in a moment of history — is something I will never forget.
In a country as divided as ours where friends harshly disagree on who to vote for, where athletes refuse to stand for the national anthem, and where the future seems daunting and uncertain, it was profoundly meaningful to watch an airplane full of strangers unite in this solemn yet unexpected moment, be vividly reminded that freedom is not free, and honor one who gave his life in past conflict so we could experience a future of liberty."
Malhotra's Facebook post “spread like wildfire,” garnering thousands of positive responses. For her, it's incredible to see her experience resonate so well with individuals from all walks of life — a moment of unity in such a divided world.