Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett
Maj. Paul Faletto, Utah National
Guard, escorted the
fallen Soldier from Dover Air Force
Base to Utah
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del.
— Last Monday I received a
call from the Mortuary Affairs Office. I would have rather
have been called by the IRS scheduling an audit for the past
A second lieutenant had
been killed in Afghanistan, and we were to send a person to
escort him home to his family and final resting place. This
time it was not a stranger; it was a young officer whom I
2LT Scott Lundell was a
new officer in my previous unit. He was on his way to
earning a Green Beret. He had heard the sound of the guns
after 9-11 and instinctively this Warrior’s heart led him to
move towards those who were in danger. He put aside his
personal aspirations of earning his Special Forces tab and
volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan to train the Afghan
His patrol was ambushed by
vastly superior numbers. Undeterred, 2LT Lundell moved to
counterattack. 2LT Lundell was always a natural leader.
From serving as student-body president of Granger High
School to serving his church on a foreign mission to the
battlefields of Afghanistan, 2LT Lundell always was a
leader. His heroic actions saved many lives, yet cost him
his own on that day.
I flew to Philadelphia on
Thursday. It was my mission to escort and guard this
father, Soldier, Warrior, and hero on his final journey
home. It was a mission that I wished I had not been offered
but accepted with honor.
The phone rang at 0200.
Wake-up call, 45 minutes to shine my shoes, shower, shave,
and put on my dress blues before my ride to Dover Air Force
Base arrived. The standard uniform for this assignment is
the Army Class “A”, but our commander ordered all members of
the honor detail to wear the uniform reserved for our most
Sergeant Parsons greeted
me as we entered Dover’s Mortuary Affairs Center. There
were two others from the Army who were there to escort
Soldiers home and one Marine with the same assignment. We
were led into a small conference room and received a
briefing on our duties and the sequence of events.
On the table in front of
me sat a stack of cases holding the awards 2LT Lundell had
earned: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge,
Paratrooper’s Wings, and a small, black velvet bag with the
words stitched in gold, “United
States of America” across the front.
I was instructed to open
the green folder on the table and remove the top form. I
then to opened the black bag and began to inventory the
immediate personal effects of 2LT Lundell.
Out of nowhere, it felt
like somebody had hit me in the stomach with a baseball
bat. I felt sick. I could feel a fever coming on, I could
feel the sweat begin to bead on my head, and my hands began
to shake. This was now very real and very personal.
My unsteady hands removed
from the bag his watch, dog tags, a challenge coin he had
received from the 3rd Special Forces, and finally
a gold wedding band.
Through watery eyes I
checked off each of these items on the form. I noticed
Scott had a small plastic tag on his dog-tag chain. I saw
the familiar words from Isaiah 6:8 emblazoned from the
Special Operations Memorial in Arlington:
Then I heard the voice of the
Lord saying, "Whom
shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said,
"Here am I. Send me!"
At 0500 I boarded a
special van with 2LT Lundell and we drove to Philadelphia.
We arrived at the Delta cargo terminal. The driver and I
unloaded 2LT Lundell and entered the office to complete his
paperwork for the trip home. Once everything was in order,
the driver took me to the passenger terminal.
I entered the bustling
crowd of people—all trying to fly to various
destinations—and I began looking for the entrance to check
I’m not sure if it was my
emotionally dazed look or full-dress uniform that caught the
eye of a Delta agent named Michelle. She quickly pulled me
aside and asked if I was escorting. I told her that I was
and she took me aside and checked me in for my flight.
She upgraded my seat to
first class, told me my departure gate, instructed me to use
the far-left lane of the security screening, and then took
my hand and thanked me. She told me she would come to the
gate and help me get to the tarmac to pick up 2LT Lundell.
I walked to the far-left
side of the TSA screening and stood in line. Regulations
require I remain in uniform, but the TSA could ask me to
remove my jacket and shoes. I was told they may have a
private area where I could remove my jacket and shoes, but
did not see any place where this could transpire. An agent
from TSA quickly noticed me and asked if I was escorting and
I nodded. He opened the line and led me to a lane that was
even further to the left.
The TSA agents X-rayed my
carry-on bag and were able to conduct their security search
while allowing me to maintain my professional duties. The
agent shook my hand and thanked me. It was painfully
obvious to me that this was something they had done many
times, yet they really went to great lengths to make me feel
Michelle met me at the
gate and introduced me to Dan who would take me down to the
tarmac. The crew arrived shortly thereafter. The pilot
came and shook my hand and told me if I needed anything to
let him know. He asked if he could have the other
passengers remain seated to allow me to deplane first. I
told him it would be very helpful if he could and that it
would save time because offloading 2LT Lundell is the first
thing the baggage handlers would do.
Dan led me down the stairs
and I inspected the cardboard shipping container that
protected 2LT Lundell’s wooden casket. There was not doubt
it was him. The formality of checking his name and the
condition were part of my duties.
I knew it was him. 2LT
Lundell was a man larger than life itself. He required an
extra-large casket. It was large enough to hold his body,
but not the character of his spirit, nor the love he gave
The baggage handlers were
most professional but unprepared for such a man. Two of
them tried to lift the end of this giant. It took another
handler and me to place the 500-plus pounds onto the
conveyor to load 2LT Lundell into the hold of the 757. Once
on the conveyor, I stepped back and rendered a salute as I
watched him load into the plane.
I boarded the plane and
sat down. The flight was completely full, yet I felt
totally alone. I suppose it takes a couple of hours to fly
from Philadelphia to Atlanta, but time for me was a blur. I
heard the pilot ask the other passengers to allow me to
depart the plane first and the flight attendants reminded
them of this as we landed.
As we approached the gate
I saw an Honor Guard formed by the baggage handlers. I had
never seen or heard of anything like this. I was stunned
that the airline would go to such lengths for a fallen
Soldier. They stood at attention while holding the flags of
the United States of America, the Army, Marines, Navy, and
The plane came to a rest
and I stood. Not a single person moved. Every passenger
paid tribute to a man that made it possible for them to fly
safely that day.
As I exited the aircraft I
was immediately greeted by a Delta baggage handler who told
me he was a former Marine. He explained that the employees
who were veterans received special permission from the
Department of Defense to form an honor guard so they may
honor all of the fallen Soldiers as they transport them
home. He asked if I would participate in their ceremony and
in a prayer with them.
We marched to the conveyor
and 2LT Lundell was brought to us. We presented arms as he
came down and then the Marine gave a short prayer. He
prayed for Scott, for his family, for me, and for the Lord’s
protection for all who place themselves in harm’s way to
defend our freedom.
It took every ounce of my
strength to maintain my composure as I thanked each of them
for what they did that day, for their service to our Nation,
and for the ceremonies they will render for the heroes who
will pass by them in the future.
They gave me a copy of the
short program and the prayer and asked me to give it to 2LT
Lundell’s wife. Each man had signed it: Fred Cadwell,
James Davis, William Stearns, and Juan Farmer. I wish I had
copied the prayer which consisted of a few short words
uttered in front of a few men but heard by God.
2LT Lundell was placed on
a special cart painted dark blue with the emblems of all
branches of the military and these words: “All gave some,
some gave all. Delta vets honoring our own.”
We were taken to the
employee lounge while we waited for our flight to Salt Lake
When our connecting flight
was inbound we were taken to the gate. The driver parked
the cart so nobody would see the precious cargo it carried.
He took me upstairs so I could check in. The agent arrived
and I asked her if it was possible to move me closer to the
door. She said her computer was not up yet, but she would
see what she could do. I stood watching the cart through
the window. I doubted anybody would notice that one of the
baggage carts was very different.
The pilot arrived and
immediately walked over to me. He said he was a former
officer in the U.S. Air Force and that his son flies F-15s
out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. He also
offered me any assistance he could provide. I told him how
touched I had been with everything Delta had done. We shook
hands and he went to go conduct his preflight checks.
The crowd around the agent
at the desk was gone so I walked over to see if she was able
to move me closer to the door. She handed me a boarding
pass that put me at the back of first class nearest to the
door. I thanked her and went back to watching 2LT Lundell.
The baggage handlers came to move him to prepare to load.
The gate agent opened the door and I went down to his cart.
I told the baggage
handlers that they needed to get more people. So they
brought two more men over. The pilot stopped what he was
doing and came to assist as well. The pilot helped us load
2LT Lundell and then stood beside me and rendered a salute
as the casket was placed into the hold of the aircraft.
As we flew to Salt Lake, a
gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a unit
coin. He said, “This is from one grunt to another.” He was
the commander of Dugway Proving Ground. He knew why I was
in my dress blues and what I was doing. It was a welcome
gesture of support. I felt I was not as alone on this part
of the journey.
The pilot announced to the
flight that they were bringing one of Utah’s native sons
home and that I was escorting him. He asked if everyone
would allow me to please exit first. As we taxied to the
gate the flight attendants repeated the request and said how
privileged they felt to be able to do so and that they
wished to thank all those who serve and have served our
Chicago was closed that
day due to weather. I heard passengers say how only four
flights made it out in the morning. Our plane was full of
people who had rerouted to try to make their destinations.
I heard several passengers mention they had less than 30
minutes to make their connections. I wondered if they would
allow me to move to the door. I did not want to have to ask
people to move so I could be first.
My concerns were abolished
when the plane stopped. I stood and took a step towards the
door. Nobody rose; instead, everyone began to applaud at
once. These strangers were bound by a kinship we all
shared. We all were part of bringing 2LT Lundell home to
The first person I saw
when I walked down the stairs to the tarmac was Brig. Gen.
Patrick Wilson, commander of I Corps Artillery. He commanded
the unit to which 2LT Lundell voluntarily transferred in
order to go to war. His eyes looked like mine. We shared
in the grief of the responsibility. He returned my salute
and gave me pat on the shoulder and thanked me.
Behind him I saw 2LT
Lundell’s best friend from Afghanistan. He is a second
lieutenant who was going through Special Forces training
with 2LT Lundell. This lieutenant was one of my ROTC
students. I counseled with 2LT Lundell and him about this
mission prior to their departure.
This lieutenant had
brought 2LT Lundell out of Afghanistan en route to the USA.
They had served together and they were close. 2LT Lundell’s
wife asked him to bring him home and to come to the funeral.
Once we were on the ground
in Salt Lake, the Utah Honor Guard took charge of
transporting 2LT Lundell. These were highly professional
noncommissioned officers with whom I had worked before. I
was relieved to see them. They took a tremendous weight off
of my shoulders.
They entered the cargo
hold of the plane and removed the protective cardboard from
the casket. They placed the stars of our nation’s flag over
2LT Lundell’s left shoulder and ran the stripes down past
his feet. They brought him off the plane and placed him on
The cart was escorted by
his family, the honor guard, and at least six airport police
to a hangar. In the hangar, 2LT Lundell’s casket was taken
from the cart and placed into the funeral coach.
After he was placed into
the funeral coach I saw Maj. Gen. Tarbet, the Adjutant
General of the Utah National Guard. It was obvious that this
was very personal to him. He looked like this was his own
son. His strength was only exceeded by 2LT Lundell’s wife.
I’ve never seen any two people so close to losing a loved
one handle it so well.
The ride to the mortuary
was somber. Every police officer in the valley must have
been there. I have seen the motorcade when the President of
the United States visited Utah, and it was nothing compared
to what I saw this time. Every intersection was blocked for
the entire 15-mile trip. Police were not leap-frogging to
get ahead to the next intersection; they were already
there. It was below freezing, yet there were officers on
When we arrived at the
funeral home, the honor guard removed 2LT Lundell from the
hearse and took him inside. Once inside, I followed the
casket to a back room. CPT Wiedmeier was the Casualty
Assistance Officer, and he took care of the family while I
went with 2LT Lundell. My job was easy compared to his.
The funeral home director
and his staff only had a few minutes to try to make any
adjustments if needed. We were told, “Viewable for
Identification Only”. This would most likely mean a closed
casket and no viewing. SGT Parsons at Dover had told me
they always downgrade the condition to protect the family.
When the casket was opened
I feared the worst, but he looked perfect.
The funeral home people
set about their duties while I inspected his uniform.
Everything was in order and they moved him to a viewing
CPT Wiedmeier broke away
so he and I could take care of paperwork. I signed over 2LT
Lundell’s personal effects and his awards to him so he could
present them to the family. When he left to do this, I met
with the director of the funeral home and had him sign the
remaining forms accepting 2LT Lundell and verifying his
The Honor Guard took
charge of guarding 2LT Lundell until his funeral. They would
stand vigilant throughout the night and into the day until
he was laid to final rest.
I found the lieutenant who
brought 2LT Lundell out of Afghanistan. His wife was
clutching his arm. I thought how she must be thinking how
easily the roles could be reversed and how it could be her
husband instead. I talked with him briefly, offering
encouragement and assistance. I’m sure those two spent the
night holding each other closer than they ever had in their
My wife picked me up and
took me home. I thought we would hold each other as well,
but when my head hit the pillow I went out. It was not that
I was tired from getting up at 0200; it was that I was
This was one of the
greatest honors I’ve ever had. I wish to never do this
again, but would do so anytime for any Soldier
Maj. Paul Faletto, 300th
Military Intelligence Brigade, Utah National Guard, was assigned
to escort the fallen Soldier from Dover Air Force Base to
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