Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dead servicemember on your flight? No need to sing about it.

Last night, as I was whiling away the evening hours in a sad state of sobriety, I read a news article about an obstetrician from Savannah, Georgia who was denied the "right" to sing the national anthem.  Now she's upset and her story is in the New York Times.

Dr. Pamela Gaudry was on the same Delta Airlines flight as Staff Sergeant Dustin M. Wright, one of the three soldiers who was recently killed in an ambush in Niger.  A fourth soldier was later found dead.  Dr. Gaudry's late husband was a Navy captain who died in the line of duty.  Given her status as a widow, Dr. Gaudry apparently felt it would be appropriate to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" in honor of the fallen soldier as he was carried off of the plane.  She says she asked around on the plane and many people said they would happily sing with her.

However, she says she was told by a flight attendant that singing the anthem was not allowed because it was against Delta's company policy.  Instead, passengers were asked to remain seated and in silence as the body was removed by the Honor Guard.

Once she was off the plane, Dr. Gaudry made a video which she shared to Facebook.  Naturally, it went viral and has, at this writing, been viewed over two million times.  Delta Airlines, for its part, clarified that singing the national anthem was not against company policy and apologized to Dr. Gaudry for the misinformation.  Sergeant Wright's family also called to thank her.  I'm watching the video and I see she is genuinely very upset and feels she was "uncourageous" for not singing the anthem.

While as a fellow military wife, I can certainly appreciate Dr. Gaudry's intent, I personally think it would have been inappropriate to sing the national anthem.  As the doctor explains in her video, the flight crew mentioned that there were many people on the plane who were from other countries.  Apparently, they expressed to the flight crew that they were "uncomfortable" with Dr. Gaudry's idea.  While they were flying into Atlanta, which is an American city, they are Delta customers too and their comfort matters.

Moreover, it seems to me that silent respect is always appropriate in the presence of the dead, while singing the anthem might not be.  According to 36 U.S. Code § 301:

Apparently, by federal law, individuals in uniform must give the military salute when "The Star Spangled Banner" is playing.  I imagine this would include impromptu a capella versions.

Although Delta Airlines has clarified that the company has no official policy against singing the national anthem, it does sound like there could have been a calamity if the passengers had sung it.  There were people in uniform there to take Sergeant Wright's body off the plane.  By law, they would have had to salute.  The Honor Guard no doubt had standard operating procedures as to how they were to remove the body from the plane in a dignified manner.  From what I've read, it seems as though the Honor Guard "whisked" Sergeant Wright's body away in order to avoid colliding with protocol.  Moreover, passengers were asked to remain seated and one should not sing the anthem while seated (unless, for some reason, they can't stand).

Dr. Gaudry has posted a long public open letter on her Facebook page.  She writes that she doesn't plan to boycott Delta, which is to her credit.  I think her heart was probably in the right place, although as a singer myself, I must comment that "The Star Spangled Banner" is a difficult song to sing even if you CAN sing.  Many people probably would prefer that particular song to be left to the professionals, patriotism notwithstanding, especially if they are trapped in a metal tube with a bunch of other people (who probably can't sing and don't know the words).  Moreover, the national anthem is not even traditionally sung at military funerals.  Instead, "Taps" is played.

I have spent my whole life around military folks and I know that many of them take their patriotism and military protocol very seriously.  My own sweet husband, himself a retired Army officer, stood at attention in our hotel room in Glasgow when a bagpiper started playing patriotic songs.  Now, I'm sure he was half kidding... or maybe not, because I know Bill and I know how proper he is when it comes to these things.  When we lived at Fort Belvoir, we had an American flag and every night at 5:00, I had to bring it inside because we didn't have a spotlight for it.  The minute it started to fray, Bill would dutifully go out and purchase another one and respectfully dispose of the old one.

The signal that it was time to bring the flag inside.  At 5:00pm every day, people on military installations stop what they're doing and salute the flag, even if they happen to be driving.  

Given that Atlanta is a very military friendly city, I can see why so many people liked Dr. Gaudry's idea.  I can also see why many people thought her idea was misguided.     

The late Robin Williams knew what to do.

Anyway... I doubt Dr. Gaudry thought about any of this at the time.  It sounds like she meant to be respectful and, for whatever reason, wanted to act on her own impulses.  I will admit my initial impression of her decision to try to sing the anthem was not very favorable.  Having now watched her video, my impression has softened somewhat.  I do believe she meant well, but I also think it was probably best to simply sit down and be silent as the sergeant was removed from the aircraft.  Let the Honor Guard do its job as it was intended to be done.  They are experts at rendering respect to fallen veterans.

These guys don't need help.  (I cried while watching this.)


  1. My cousin was at Camp Arifjan for a little over a year about six years ago.

    I don't doubt that the would-be singer's motives were pure, but it would be nice if we could accept that we're not always the most knowledgeable regarding protocol. Concerning military protocol, your knowledge base is pretty broad, but most of the rest of us cannot make that claim.

    1. She is a Navy wife whose late husband was apparently one of quite a few veterans within the family. It actually surprises me that she didn't realize that this could be taken as disrespectful by some. But I suspect she was carried away by the emotion and perhaps the recent hoopla over respect for the flag and veterans.

  2. I had the same reaction that you did. I do think she meant well, but it doesn't seem that was appropriate for the occasion. You expressed it much better than I could have.

    1. Thanks, Lauren.

      I will admit, when I first read about this, my feelings were more like what I read on the New York Times' Facebook post. People were pretty brutal! But I changed my mind when I watched her video and heard her speak. She was genuinely upset.


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