Eugene Cho

Flying a fallen soldier home…


In honor of Memorial Day…With much gratitude to our soldiers and with deep longing and prayer for peace. Freedom is [Not] Free.

Yesterday,  I had a quick 24 hour trip from Seattle to Chicago.  As I was returning on Thursday night to Sea-Tac airport and eager to get back to my wife and kids from a good but exhausting trip, I (and the rest of the passengers) was getting peeved that the de-planing process was taking such a long time.  In fact, we didn’t move for at least 15 minutes.   As I looked out the window, I began to notice a growing group of police cars, ambulances, firetrucks and military vehicles gather around the side of the airplane.  Then, folks began to line up…

And when folks began to salute, it then hit me what was going on.

Our flight was carrying a fallen soldier home.

Now, I don’t have more details of who this fallen soldier was.  I don’t know if it was a man or woman; nor the details of how the soldier died; nor the details of where or what war or conflict.

All I know is that it was a “fallen soldier.”

Honestly, I don’t know what the honorable and respectable way to speak of this.  It isn’t my intent to sensationalize this but to simply share how the image of the casket being moved from the airplane to a vehicle has been fixed on my mind.  Additionally, the image of what I assume to be the parents and siblings of the deceased soldier embracing one another – and the image of the mother with her face covered by her hands will remain seared on my mind.

What must have gone through their minds?

I can’t even fathom.

The tone on the airplane changed dramatically.  I’ve never seen such a packed flight of people – for the past 15  minutes ago – complaining, grumbling, snickering – grow so silent.  Eventually, many began to deplane but ever so quietly but there were also several including myself that simply sat by a window seat to observe, wonder, and lament.

It was during this lamenting that a person near me shared me this fact:  That day marked the 6 year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War.  On March 19, 2003, our country invaded Iraq and tragically, the war continues today…

Is it just me or have we forgotten?

With much gratitude to our soldiers – especially our fallen soldiers – and with deep longing and prayer for peace.

[To learn more about fallen soldiers coming home, click here]

* post originally written on March 26, 2009

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22 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    Wow – I’m sure it was a moving moment. It does seem to me that the wars have been…not forgotten but downplayed more than they should. I guess this is because of our economy. But I’m sure for soldiers and their families this is frustrating. It was surprising to hear that in Obama’s public press conference earlier this week the words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” weren’t mentioned once by either the president or the press. I always think of this quote from Eisenhower, “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”

  2. myclue says:

    Wow. Events like this make it real and not something worlds apart from the way we live.

  3. Maia says:

    Pfc. Court D. Haugen, 23, was hit by a train on March 11th. He was an infantryman assigned to the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Visleck. He was returning to Fort Lewis after serving 15 months in Iraq.

    Governor Gregoire ordered flags to fly at half mast today in honor of this soldier, I’m not sure if it was the same one who was on your plane but the timing is right.

  4. eugenecho says:

    @maia: i saw that in the news this morning. for some reason, i think it’s another soldier but don’t know for sure.

  5. Jin says:

    The counter didn’t stop when the media stopped covering the continuing death tolls.. there are lives and faces behind this war. so let me remind everyone… 4579 dead in iraq and 671 dead in afghanistan (to date) and thats just US. allied forces: 179 dead in Iraq and 449 in afghanistan (to date).

    once i get the site up i am committed to having a profile for every single one of them.

  6. Leah says:

    Thank you for sharing such a powerful experience–and reminder to keep our soldiers and their families in our prayers.

  7. Brian says:

    Everyone should read this from the Rocky Mountain News (“Final Salute” Friday, November 11, 2005).

    Original story

    Version that ran in Time magazine

  8. Ginny says:

    Thanks for committing your experience to words. It brought tears to my eyes and serves as a powerful reminder.

  9. Chad Estes says:

    Appreciated this post today. Thanks, Eugene.

  10. heiditemple says:

    I am an Iraq veteran, and our company lost 2 soldiers during our deployment, including one in my platoon. As a veteran, I must say that it really does feel as if the country has forgotten about the war(s). Thank you for writing about this. We think about the war every single day. We fight for the benefits that we deserve. We thank our Father for allowing us to come home alive, those of us who do. I will pray for that mother you saw.. and I will pray for all the other mothers who will lose their son or daughter today.

  11. Capt Ralph says:

    Thank you for sharing that moment. I have heard other similar stories, but knowing someone that experienced it brings it even closer. One more thought……just last month more returned vets committed suicide than were killed in Iraq & Afganistan. Also, a large portion of our vets are the ones on the streets – we need to do something about that here!

  12. […] ‘It then hit me … Our flight was carrying a fallen soldier home’ March 27, 2009 Eugene Cho […]

  13. Joe says:

    HBO mostly has a bunch of garbage on it. But one movie that they have in rotation right now is “Taking Chance.”

    Highly recommended. It puts on film what you experienced. I was brought to tears during the entire movie at the lengths and reverence our government goes through in bringing our fallen soldiers home. I recently posted about this.

    God bless each member of our military. I don’t care what your political leanings are or whether or not we agree with where our country is in this world, we owe everything to those brave men and women who lay down their lives for us.

    “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13

  14. Mark Lee says:

    From the picture, the plane was carrying a Marine. Nevertheless, s/he is one our fallen heroes. Not that I glorify war or combat veterans, but being an Army chaplain, having conducted memorials for my own fallen Soldiers in combat and having attended more memorials than I care to remember, and having been part of death notification teams, I can personally say that the country has definitely lost the concentrated effort to remember that our men and women in the Armed Forces are putting their lives on the line everyday.

    I couldn’t stand the way most people were carrying on about petty things of life when I first returned from Iraq. There are so many more important issues to be concerned with in this world. I pray that we will never forget the sacrifices that young men and women make in the military everyday, so that we Americans can enjoy the joys of freedom, liberty, and all the little things that we can, and often do, take for granted.

    Eugene, God bless you and your ministry. I’m proud to have known you in seminary. Please keep praying for all of our military personnel until they all return home.

  15. Karl Kroger says:

    As one who identifies as Christian and almost pacifist. I think I too would have been moved by the experience. I think I would have also lamented, felt empathy, and prayed for peace. However, it is difficult for me to be grateful because I disagree with Christians joining the military. I recognize that I benefit from the military and the persons in it, but I prefer that they not do what they do.

  16. Pam says:

    As a military family member and one who has attended more fallen soldiers services than I ever thought I would, thank you for taking the time to grieve and lament. It doesn’t stop the hurt, but it does help to know that people care.

  17. Mikey says:

    Hi, i just wanted to clarify. That was not Court Haugen in your picture. Though the times do line up, i knew him, and his family, and thats not him. First of all, he was in the army, and the soldiers in your pictures are Marines. And i saw pictures from his family retrieving his casket, and all the soldiers that helped in that, were all Army, as well.

  18. Court's Mom Robin says:

    The people on the plane bringing our son home, watching our family – thank you for your prayers, they were felt and helped us get through a very difficult time. Mikey is right the picture you have posted in not Court- However, a family has lost a child, spouse, father, brother, sister, mother – someone and they need to be remembered. The statics are incredible – 30 soldiers (average) a month – to suicide – PTSS is hitting our sweet children/warriors hard. pray just as hard – Court was ready to make the military a career, until Iraq – Like Eugene has said – the story is correct- the “picture” is wrong – pray…

  19. […] Also, check this out: Flying a Fallen Soldier Home. […]

  20. gar says:

    Prayers and respect for the soldier and his/her family… and thank you to all of our veterans and fall solders for your service to our community and country.

  21. Susan says:

    Eugene, thanks for this. I feel terrible on Memorial Day because I really, truly feel that the right way to honor those who serve us as soldiers is to honor them long before they die…by not sending them into engagements without a carefully thought-out purpose. That any of our forces still die in Iraq breaks my heart over and over. We owe them far more than that – they need to come home. And we owe those who come back far more than they are getting in coping with how they have been used. I lament this. Peace to this soldier’s memory; comfort to his loved ones, from God’s hand.

  22. Greg D says:

    Why do we continue to kill our men and women with these senseless wars? Why do we call fallen soldiers “heroes” when they themselves are/were killing machines? Why do we applaud empires, military supremacy, and other systems of Caesar and worldly kingdoms? Why do we praise our military and might, but turn a blind eye to innocent men, women, and children who died from collateral damage?

    American Christians have several idols in their midst: nationalism, American exceptionalism, militarism, and patriotism. All of which many American evangelicals have bowed at their altars. I hope and pray that American Christians will turn away from these idols, and turn to the only One who gave us true freedom at His expense… Jesus our Lord and King.

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the action of working with someone or a group of others  to produce or create something.

May we hold our logos, egos, and tribalism have their place. May we hold them loosely for they too shall pass. May we collaborate for the sake of the greater Kingdom of God ... which endures forever. As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

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Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

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