At Alaska Airlines, a final tribute to the fallen
Alone on the airfield, one cart is reserved for heroes.
With blue paint, red carpet and American flag curtains, the customized cart carries the remains of fallen service members along their journey home to their final resting place.
It’s the most visible component of the Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Program, which ensures the remains are treated with respect and dignity upon arrival.
“I respect people who risk their lives for our freedoms, and I feel like this is a small thing I can do for them in return,” said John Van Dyke, a line aircraft technician in Seattle who volunteered his sheet-metal skills to help customize the cart.
In August 2014, the cart was delivered to Los Angeles International Airport.
Alaska Airlines has similar carts in Portland and Seattle, where the process and protocols were developed by a volunteer group of maintenance employees in 2011. (Update: in July 2015, the team delivered a customized cart to Anchorage, to extend the program to the state of Alaska. A fifth cart was presented to the San Diego International Airport in August 2015, and a sixth to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.)
Alaska maintenance employees drove the cart to Los Angeles in a 1,127-mile journey from Seattle, with a special “pony express” escort of motorcycle Patriot Guard riders. They were greeted by representatives from the airport police and fire departments and volunteers from the Bob Hope USO.
Alaska’s LAX employees follow the Fallen Soldier Protocols, even wearing special safety vests emblazoned with the Fallen Soldier Program’s name and slogan. With this cart, the program will be complete.
During Monday’s ceremony, Patriot Guard rider Jess Ahumada Jr. presented Alaska Airlines with a flag that had been passed from rider to rider from the California border down to LAX.
“I lost my son in 2009, and what this cart is going to be used for,” Ahumada said. “I’ve got to help another brother and another father out.”
Tim Fahey and Jim Rea drove the cart from Seattle to Los Angeles. A Ford F-250 pulled a freshly painted trailer, courtesy of Alaska Airlines Ground Support Equipment’s Dan Stewart and Mike Smith.
“It was a big group effort,” said Rea, the fallen-soldier representative for LAX and a lead avionics technician in Seattle.
The cart’s exterior features an aluminum LAX sign that was made in the machine shop. Exterior plaques represent the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Inside are plaques for the Army National Guard and Air National Guard.
On the top of the cart, visible to airline customers, is a large decal that says “Alaska Airlines Honoring the Fallen” along with a star and emblems for the five armed services.
The fallen soldier cart will remain in the care of Alaska Airlines but will be available for any airline at LAX to use.
Protocol: Fallen Soldier Program