When a Veteran Stood Up for My Son at the Airport

My husband and I aren’t rookies when it comes to traveling with our son to and from the hospital. And although time has passed, the memory of one particular journey is still fresh.

It was Sunday evening, and we were flying home from our son’s surgery. He was straight out of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for a specialized spinal cord surgery and hadn’t yet gained the ability to walk.

I’d contacted the airline weeks before to ensure the flight was direct, our family could sit together and above all, to request Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations. It’s often roulette with the airlines we never know how accommodating they will be. Regardless, we always go in with a positive attitude.

This particular day, though, things started smoothly. When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted with a wheelchair and a nice gentleman who helped us through security. Our son was exhausted, but he never had to get out of the wheelchair. Everything was going perfectly, but just in case anyone questioned us, he kept his hospital bracelets on and we had extensive medical documentation.

We finally made it to our gate, thankful to sit in the waiting area. With what we thought would be the toughest part of our journey complete, it felt like we’d won the airport lottery. But when the attendant opened the ticket counter, things quickly went south.

She informed us that we could no longer sit together on the plane. I explained to her we had ADA accommodations and it was important we sit together. Our son needed help getting in and out of his seat.

The attendant looked at me and said, “You are not sitting together. Too bad. Sit down.”

My son overheard the attendant and started to cry. We were all in disbelief, at a loss about what to do. Our son could not navigate the flight home by himself.

I was in a fog, sorting through my emotions and attempting to create an action plan. Then a man who overheard this conversation got up and started talking to the attendant. He was dressed in a retired Navy veteran sweatshirt and hat. I watched him, shocked by his kindness. We were complete strangers to him, and he still tried to help us. But again, the attendant used her desensitized robotic voice to tell him the flight was full, she could not accommodate us, sit down.

All I could think of was to call the airline to contact a representative for help. I didn’t notice, but the Navy veteran left the gate. As I sat on hold with the airline, he returned within moments with a supervisor. He explained what had happened, and the supervisor immediately removed the attendant from her post.

The best part? The supervisor knew my son’s surgeon. She had worked part-time as a nurse at the same hospital. Divine intervention if I ever saw it! 

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this situation, and my son has had a lot of time, too. Unfortunately, he learned there are mean people in the world. But a teachable moment arises when the “icky” emotions fade. A hero who fought to protect our freedom also cared about my son. He cared about our family, going above and beyond to make sure our needs were met. He went to battle for us. Thanks to this wonderful Navy veteran, we were able to sit together as a family and help our son fly safely home.

I only regret not getting his name. I hope our thank you on the flight and again as we exited the plane let him know how overwhelmingly grateful we were for his kindness.

“A hero is somebody who voluntarily walks into the unknown.” – Tom Hanks.

A version of this post originally appeared on HOPE.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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