Editor’s note: This was written by Stuart Witt of
Ridgecrest. He was on the flight from Washington, D. C. to Los Angeles
Feb. 17 with the Landaker family as they brought their son, 1st Lt. Jared
Landaker, home for burial. I felt it important enough to run it in its
entirety exactly as it was written.
February 17, 2007, 0350 curbside at 24th and M, Washington DC. 16 Degrees
with a light breeze. Going home after my second week of freezing temps to
my home in SoCal. Fly my aircraft, ride a horse, climb a mountain and get
back to living. I’m tired of the cold.
0425 paying the taxi fare at Dulles in front of the United Airlines
counter, still cold.
0450 engaging the self-serve ticker machine and it delivers my ticket,
baggage tag and boarding pass. Hmmm, that Marine is all dressed up early…?
Oh, maybe,,,Hmm, “Good Morning Captain, you’re looking sharp.”
Pass Security and to my gate for a quick decaf
coffee and 5 hours sleep. A quick check of the flight status monitor and
UA Flt 211 is on time, I’m up front, how bad can it be? Hmmm, that same
Marine, he must be heading to Pendleton to see his lady at LAX for the
long weekend all dressed up like that….? Or maybe not?
“Attention in the boarding area, we will begin boarding in 10 minutes, we
have some additional duties to attend to this morning but we will have you
out of here on time.”
That Captain now has five others with him, BINGO, I get it, he is not
visiting his lady, he’s an official escort. How I remember doing that
once, CACO duty. I still remember the names of the victim and family, The
Bruno Family in Mojave…, all of them, wow, that was 24 years ago. I wonder
if we will ever know who and why?
On board, 0600: “Good morning folks this is the Captain. This morning we
have been attending to some additional duties and I apologize for being 10
minutes late for pushback but believe me we will be early to LAX. This
morning it is my sad pleasure to announce that 1st LT Jared Landaker USMC
will be flying with us to his Big Bear home in Southern California. Jared
lost his life over the sky’s of Iraq earlier this month and today we have
the honor of returning him home along with his Mother, Father, Brother and
uncles. Please join me in making the journey comfortable for the Landaker
family and their uniformed escort. Now sit back and enjoy our ride, we are
not expecting any turbulence until we reach the Rocky Mountains and at
that time we will do what we can to ensure a smooth ride. For those
interested you can listen in to our progress on button 9.”
Up button 9: “Good morning UA 211 you are cleared to taxi, takeoff and
cleared to LAX as filed.” From the time we started rolling we never
stopped. 1st LT Landaker began receiving his due.
4 hours and 35 minutes later over Big Bear MT, the AB320 makes a left roll
and steep bank and then one to the right…Nice touch CAPTAIN. Five minutes
out from landing, the Captain, “Ladies and Gents after landing I’m leaving
the fasten seatbelt sign on and I ask everyone in advance to yield to the
Landaker family. Please remain seated until all members have departed the
aircraft. Thank you for your patience, we are 20 minutes early.”
On roll out, I notice red lights, emergency vehicles
everywhere. We are being escorted directly to our gate, no waiting
anywhere, not even a pause. Out the left window, a dozen Marines in full
dress blues. Highway Patrol, Police, Fire crews all in full dress with
lights on. A true class act by everyone, down to a person from coast to
coast. Way to go United Airlines for doing the little things RIGHT,
because they are the big things; Air Traffic Control for getting the
message, to all law enforcement for your display of brotherhood.
When the family departed the aircraft everyone sat silent, then I heard a
lady say, “God Bless You and your Family, Thank You.” Then another, then
another, then a somber round of applause. The Captain read a prepared note
from Mrs. Landaker to the effect, “Thank you all for your patience and
heartfelt concern for us and our son. We sincerely appreciate the
sentiment. It is nice to have Jared home.”
After departing the a/c I found myself along with 30 others from our
flight looking for a window. Not a dry eye in the craft. All of us were
balling like babies. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
We all stood silent and watched as Jared was taken by his honor guard to
an awaiting hearse. Then the motorcade slowly made it’s way off the ramp.
I have finally seen the silent majority. It is deep within us all. Black,
Brown, White, Yellow, Red, Purple, we are all children, parents, brothers,
sisters, etc…we are an American family.
What you don’t know is that on the flight I was tapped on the shoulder by
Mrs. Landaker who introduced herself to me after I awoke.
Early in our taxi out from the gate at Dulles, the gent next to me (a
Fairfax City Council Member and acquaintance of the Thuot family) were
talking to the flight attendant and mentioned that we had sons serving on
active duty, “What do you say? How tragic, they must be devastated.” He
said many of the passengers had told him the same thing so somewhere in
the flight he shared his tidbits with Mrs. Landaker. Our flight attendant
had been struggling with what to say, to find the right words, so he told
the Landaker family of passengers who were parents of service members who
connected with their grief as parents. After I gathered myself, I stepped
back to their row, two behind me and introduced myself to Mr. Landaker (a
Veteran of South East Asia as a Tanker) and Jared’s uncle and brother.
What a somber moment. Their Marine Captain escort was a first rate class
act. He had been Jared’s tactics instructor and volunteered for this
assignment, as he said, “Sir, it is the least I could do, he was my friend
and a great stick. He absolutely loved to fly. It’s an honor to be here on
his last flight.”
1115: On my connecting flight, my mind raced. How lucky I was to have had
an opportunity to fly my father to Spain and ride the carrier USS John F.
Kennedy home in 1981. The same year Jared was born. How lucky I was to
have my father on the crows landing when I made my final cat shot in an
F-14. Jared’s father never had that chance. Jared was at war, 10,000 miles
When Mr. Landaker and I were talking he shared with me, “When Jared was
born he had no soft spot on his head and Dr’s feared he would be
developmentally challenged. He became a Physics Major with Honors, high
school and college athlete, and graduated with distinction from naval
aviation flight school! He was short in stature, but a Marine all the
way.” Visit his life story on line at www.bigbeargrizzly.net. Bring
February 7, 2007, Anbar Province, Iraq. 1st LT Jared
Landaker United States Marine Corps, Hero, from Big Bear California, gave
his live in service to his country. Fatally wounded when his CH-46
helicopter was shot down by enemy fire, Jared and his crew all perished.
His life was the ultimate sacrifice of a grateful military family and
nation. His death occurred at the same time as Anna Nicole Smith, a drug
using person with a 7th grade education of no pedigree who dominated our
news for two weeks while Jared became a number on CNN. And most
unfortunately, Jared’s death underscores a fact that we are a military at
war, not a nation at war. Until we become a nation committed to winning
the fight, and elect leaders with the spine to ask Americans to sacrifice
in order to win, we shall remain committed to being a nation with a
military at war, and nothing more. (And possibly no funding if congress
has their way!)
1st LT Landaker, a man I came to know in the sky’s over America on 17
February 2007, from me to you, aviator to aviator, I am unbelievably
humbled. It was my high honor to share your last flight. God bless you.