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Mission City Voices: More Than a Stewardess

We were waiting inside the boarding area, ready to walk onto our Alaska Airlines flight leaving the Big Island of Hawaii. An assisted service dog in a cage would also be flying home on our flight. The service dog owner was an older woman, sad but with a beautiful radiant smile. A little hunched over, she slowly walked to the cage and told her dog lovingly that everything will be okay and they would be home soon. She reached out to touch the cage and then waved goodbye. From her routine, I could tell she had done this many times in the past. She smiled at the attendant and asked him to please take care of her dog. The attendant reassured her once again and wheeled the cage to the baggage area. It appeared to be a sad time for her. As I found out later, she’s been sad before at the airport. In fact it started over fifty years ago and happened almost every week for six years. How could this be…

I was one of the first to board and was sitting comfortably next to my wife as the plane began to fill up. I looked up at the boarding passengers and I happened to see the same lady I had seen earlier with her dog. As she was slowly walking down the crowded aisle to take her seat, she looked over at me and noticed I was wearing my Vietnam Veterans hat. It was then that she leaned in and with a sincere look she softly said, “Thank you for your service.” Now I’ve been told this many times since I started wearing my hat, but their was a genuine sincerity in her voice. I smiled and told her that I appreciated her stopping and telling me. She looked into my eyes and it felt like my Mom looking back at me, with a lot of love. She replied, “I was a stewardess back in the 60’s and for six years I flew young men like yourself into and out of Vietnam.” I then thanked her for her service. She was one of the last people from home we saw. I knew that there was a lot more she wasn’t telling me…

What I remember when I was flying to Vietnam was how great the stewardesses were. They made us feel special before we went into a war zone,  far from home. During the long 17-hour ride to Vietnam there was plenty of talking and laughter but the last hour was different. The mood and atmosphere became very serious as we realized many of us may not make it home alive. It was at this time that the young stewardesses, girls themselves hardly older than the young boys getting ready for battle, started holding our hands, some quietly crying, and wishing for us to be careful and come home safely. They also knew something else…

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I never thought about what stewardesses were thinking but I felt they were just as concerned about us as if we were their family. Little did I realize on their return trip to the States, they were bringing soldiers home to be reunited with their loved ones. Inside the cabin, some soldiers with injuries among soldiers with lasting emotional wounds. In the belly of the plane, sadly, were the men who were now in boxes waiting to return home. Every one of those ladies that held our hands also knew who they were bringing home. I imagine the emotional scars that they hid or tried to hide throughout their lives must have been devastating. The Veterans Administration took a long time to help returning soldiers, but who helped stewardesses, like the one who held my hand, in my time of uncertainty? As this former stewardess, an older civilian veteran of war, slowly walked to her seat, I hope she did so proudly. She evoked in me a memory of those she comforted and left me smiling. I wish to thank all stewardesses for providing comfort and well wishes to soldiers in our time of uncertainty, and for bringing us home.

Mission City Voices

Do you have a personal essay that you’d like to submit for consideration in Mission City Voices? Email Editor@SvVoice.com subject line: Mission City Voices.

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3 Comments
  1. Deborah Anderson 1 month ago
    Reply

    I was one of those stwardesses who flew into and out of Hanoi, Viet Nam in the mid 60’s. Fresh out of training, I desired and was assigned to the US West Coast where I yearned to fly the Orient. The Vietnam War was well underway and MAC (Military Air Charter) seemed like great way to make this happen.
    My first MAC flight was the most heartwrenching and sobering experience of my young life. The Boeing 707 aircraft held 200+ just-out- of- highschool boys barely younger than myself in various U S Military uniforms. They filed on board and went directly to assigned seats. Most were somber. Some teary eyed. Few spoke. Eerily quiet. The atmosphere was tense as we headed Northwest towards the War. In flight, our crew did what we could to ease the tenseness. We passed out comic books. Played cards. Held trembling hands. Anything we could think of to solace the young unessy minds. On one trip we wrote on the lid of a restroom toilet seat lid, “Its so nice to have a man around the bouse”! It brought some smiles. We made every effort to hide our emotion knowing what these young boys had waiting for them. How many times we had to rush to the galley or restroom to let the tears flow knowing most of these kids would never be coming home. Fying into Hanoi was in itself a traumatic ordeal. Looking out, you could see the War….. bright artillary flashes … gunfire tracing lighting the aircrafts now darkened interior. At a given command from vround sources, our 707 went into a steep dive and barreled onto a darkened runway. The War wax now all around us! We said our goodbyes to our guys and promised we would safely bring them home. We knew that would not be true for most of them.
    Our return flight to the States was heartwrenching. A few lucky war weary boys (now men!) occupied seats. Going home!! Below, in the cargo area, were cardboard body boxes holding the remains of possibly many of the brave guys we had just brought over to the War on previous MAC charters.
    Fifty some years later, I can relive those nightmarish flights. I tear up just thinking about them. But at the same time I am so very happy that I, and the other stewardess and stewards who flew these flights, were given the opportunity to personally extend our love and gratitude to each and every one of our brave young passengers. God love them!!

  2. Larry Flora 1 month ago
    Reply

    Beautifully written. Were you by chance on my Alaska flight last month?
    Everyone should read your story or better your book. I wish I could reach
    out and give you the biggest hug. You will never be forgotten!
    Thank you and God bless all of you!🙏💕🙏

  3. Larry 1 month ago
    Reply

    It was Saigon not Hanoi that she meant to say.

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