Packed flight goes silent for fallen veteran taking final trip home

Passengers pause to salute fallen soldier, Private First Class Curtis J. Wells in Detroit, Michigan. RUTH MALHOTRA/FACEBOOK

DETROIT (CBS)–  It was a packed flight the Tuesday morning after Labor Day as restless passengers filled the cabin with sounds of chatter minutes before the plane was scheduled to touch down in Detroit.

But when the captain made a special announcement on the intercom the plane quickly fell silent.

“We have the honor of bringing a fallen soldier home,” the captain began, explaining that an Honor Guard ceremony would take place as soon as the plane landed.

It was a moment passenger Ruth Malhotra said she would never forget, and she shared the touching moment with the world in a now viral Facebook post.

“Private First Class Curtis J. Wells, 19 years old, was reported Missing In Action in the early 1950’s while serving in the Korean War,” Malhotra recalled the captain announcing. “The Pentagon recently confirmed his remains were found in Korea, and we are returning them to his family for burial with full military honors.”

The Atlanta, Georgia, native watched from her window seat at the very back of the plane as military escorts slowly carried a flag-draped casket off the aircraft.

“There was this feeling that we just witnessed something special and historic,” Malhotra told CBS News.

Passengers roared with applause to honor of the fallen hero as soon as the service started.

“The ceremony on the tarmac continued for several minutes, but it felt like time stood still,” Malhotra said.

Members of Wells’ family stood on the tarmac to welcome their loved one home. They finally got the closure they needed after facing decades of unanswered questions.

People were leaning over seats, straining their necks to catch a glimpse of the emotional ceremony.

Malhotra was in awe.

Ordinarily, passengers are rushing to deboard, quickly gathering their belongings so they can be one of the first to exit.

This time, everyone just stopped and stared in silence.

Some people were hugging each other, while others were sharing photos that they took of the moving moment.

Lately, Malhotra hasn’t seen much of a true display of patriotism in the country. But she said this event was “so authentic.”

“Witnessing such respect for a fallen hero and unity around the American flag on an airplane full of diverse people — all coming and going in different directions, yet caught together in a moment of history — is something I will never forget,” Malhotra said. “It was profoundly meaningful to watch an airplane full of strangers unite in this solemn yet unexpected moment, be vividly reminded that freedom is not free, and honor one who gave his life in past conflict so we could experience a future of liberty.”

Wells will be buried with full military honors on Saturday in Harbor Beach, Michigan, according to an AMVETS news release.

“Curtis Wells made the ultimate sacrifice, and 64 years later — he’s finally home,” the captain said at the close of the ceremony.

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