Traveling by air may be necessary, but it’s not always pleasant. In fact, the sheer struggle of making sure all family members are packed ready for the trip – not to mention the extensive line that often greets you at check-in – may mean that you’re stressed out even before you sit down in your seat. And after David Darrow boarded a flight in July 2019, he was certainly very far from calm. When the captain of the plane began to address the passengers, though, he announced that one traveler wouldn’t make it home alive – ultimately causing Darrow to burst into tears.
So it certainly wasn’t a case of first-flight nerves – as Darrow frequently travels across the U.S. by plane. Yet the passenger may not have expected to become emotional on his trip. On this particular occasion, then, he was jetting from Phoenix, Arizona, to Charlotte, North Carolina, on a journey that took place just before the Fourth of July weekend. And before take-off, it’s fair to say that Darrow wasn’t in the best of moods.
Yes, Darrow was pretty stressed after he had been through the process of checking in at the Phoenix airport. This is rather understandable, though, given that Independence Day was on the horizon. The occasion, after all, often means extra crowds of people looking to fly back home. Yet Darrow eventually made it on board his plane and waited for take-off.
Then, just a few moments later, the craft’s captain brought the boarding process to a halt. And Darrow was furious at this further delay to proceedings – not least because it could have made him too late for his connecting flight. When the member of crew revealed exactly what was at stake during the hold-up, however, the passenger’s mood would take a sudden turn.
To get a better understanding of what made Darrow so tearful, then, it’s worth looking at national holidays across the world. And plenty of nations do indeed have their own special occasions during which they can proclaim their patriotism – from Bastille Day in France to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Just across the U.S. border, though, a rather macabre celebration takes place every year.
Every fall, you see, Mexico celebrates Día de Muertos. Known in English as the Day of the Dead, the holiday brings families across the country together to remember the lives of their deceased loved ones. It’s not a somber festival, either, as the dead are in fact thought to be with their nearest and dearest over the course of the event.
Famously, Mexicans also celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5. This holiday is held in honor of the Mexican Army’s triumph at the Battle of Puebla back in 1862 – with the pivotal victory first commemorated a year later in California. Less than two decades prior, of course, the state had been part of Mexico itself.
Interestingly, though, Cinco de Mayo is not actually a public holiday for many Mexicans – save for those in Puebla itself. And while schoolchildren all over the country are also given the day off, business and commerce typically goes on as usual on May 5. In fact, Cinco de Mayo has arguably become a bigger event north of the border.
Yes, in recent decades, Cinco de Mayo’s profile has been boosted in the U.S. – thanks, perhaps, to alcohol companies’ tie-in promotions with the holiday. And these ads seem to have worked, too. According to The New York Times, Nielsen found that in excess of $600 million worth of beer was purchased in the run-up to Cinco de Mayo in 2013 – more than had been snapped up in preparation for that year’s Super Bowl.
But while Cinco de Mayo has increasingly become a significant celebration Stateside, there’s one other event that overshadows it every year: Independence Day. As Darrow no doubt understands, July 4 sees friends and families come together to commemorate their country’s history, watch stunning firework displays or just chow down on some barbecue in the company of their loved ones.
And as anyone who concentrated in history class will know, the origins of Independence Day can be traced back to the summer of 1776. That year, the 13 British colonies on the American mainland were finally freed from the grip of the European nation and duly became autonomous. Yet this momentous ruling came around a decade into the American Revolution, which didn’t actually end until 1783.
In June 1776, you see, a man named Richard Henry Lee put forward the motion that would eventually lead to the Declaration of Independence. And after autonomy from Britain was given support, Congress duly drew up the declaration on July 2. But the document wasn’t signed right afterwards; a bit of time was needed to refine it first.
Then, finally, the Declaration of Independence was ratified by Congress on July 4, 1776. And this epochal event began to be commemorated the following year, too. In 1777, in fact, Independence Day was honored by a 13-gun salute in Rhode Island, while a party was also held on the same date in Philadelphia.
The makings of modern-day July 4 festivities arguably began in 1781, however, when officials in Massachusetts marked up the date as cause for celebration state-wide. Residents of Salem, North Carolina, also put on one of the earliest public gatherings to mark Independence Day in 1783. And, of course, the observance of America’s independence certainly didn’t end there.
But it took quite a while for Independence Day to become the big event that Darrow and so many others now attend each year. It wasn’t until the early 1870s, in fact, that federal members of staff were given the day off by Congress – although they wouldn’t earn any wages for that 24-hour period. Officials revised their stance in 1938, though, leading to July 4 becoming a paid federal holiday.
Since then, Independence Day celebrations have become a mainstay in the U.S., with people honoring the occasion all over the country. For those who have to travel to reach their families for the holiday, however, such journeys can be incredibly stressful. The sheer numbers of people on the roads, for instance, can often bring traffic to a standstill.
And as we’ve already mentioned, Darrow was one of those traveling ahead of Independence Day in 2019. To begin with, then, he was on board a plane from Phoenix to Charlotte, after which he planned to jump aboard another flight in North Carolina to complete his journey.
Prior to the first leg of the trip, though, Darrow wasn’t in a particularly good mood. In fact, it seems that the headache of trying to navigate the holiday crowds had proved too much for him. Yet despite the stress, the passenger made his way onto the aircraft in Phoenix mid-morning.
Then, within a few minutes of Darrow sitting down, his journey appeared to hit an additional speed bump that threatened to scupper his plans. At that point, you see, the captain of the airplane stopped the other passengers from taking their seats. It happened, too, that he had a request for those who were already on board.
Given how tight the time was, Darrow was initially perturbed by the interruption – as he wanted to get to Charlotte without delay. But his mindset shifted after he realized why the captain had chosen to give a special message to the passengers. And following the flight, the traveler took to Facebook to explain exactly what had happened.
“Yesterday, I took a 10:00 a.m. flight from Phoenix to Charlotte, and it was the most emotionally draining flight I have ever taken,” Darrow recalled on the social media website. “I have never cried so much for someone I did not know as I did yesterday.” The frequent flyer went on to reveal, however, that he had initially experienced emotion of a different kind.
Darrow continued, “I boarded [the plane] highly aggravated and angry. If you fly a lot, you’ll understand holiday travel. It’s absolutely madness.” Given his dark mood, then, he was understandably far from happy about what would come next – or to begin with, anyway.
“I sat down in my seat, and two minutes later boarding was ceased by the captain,” Darrow wrote. “[He] told [us] to stop in our tracks and observe a moment of silence. I thought, ‘Now what?’ And I got even more angry because I was going to miss my connection.”
However, Darrow’s frustration subsided almost immediately once he realized what was going on. The passenger explained, “And then this happened. This soldier, who died in Afghanistan, was being flown home to North Carolina on our flight.” He also illustrated the heartbreaking revelation by including some photographs of the casket as it was being loaded into the plane.
It seems, too, that the news a fallen soldier was on board the flight made Darrow take stock. In any case, it led him to reflect on the ultimate price that the man had paid for his country. And on Facebook, the traveler expressed just how he thought the moment was appropriate to the July 4 holiday.
“You see, this is what the Fourth of July is about,” Darrow said. “This is why we are free to argue over a stupid athlete and a stupid pair of tennis shoes. It’s about a sacrifice of men and women who since 1776 have laid down their lives so [that] I can eat hot dogs, drink beer and watch fireworks.”
Nor was Darrow the only one to be touched by the solemn realization that the soldier would be taking his last journey home. The captain, too, had a very deep connection to the military, leading him to be similarly moved by the event. And the crew member wasn’t the only one to shed a few tears, either.
Darrow continued, “The captain came out of the cockpit and addressed the passenger in person. He was a guy who also served, and his four kids are currently serving. He did not keep it together, and we all cried. The entire flight, I looked at the floor of the plane crying.”
At that point, Darrow tried to explain why he was feeling upset. The traveler wrote, “I knew this fine gentleman was down there so I could sit here and eat dumb peanuts. I felt guilty and so sad. My problems seemed trivial.” And in his Facebook post, he went on to draw a parallel between himself and the fallen soldier.
In addition, Darrow chose to connect his experience to the impending holiday. “Here I was flying home to be with my family for the fourth [of July],” he explained. “Here [the soldier] was going to be with his family to be buried on the fourth.”
Darrow added, “I wanted to share this because it is a Fourth of July I will never forget. My problems melted away, and I was so proud of America and American Airlines for showing so much respect.” Then the flyer decided to make one final point.
Indeed, it seemed that Darrow had a request of his own for those who were reading the Facebook post. He concluded, “Please keep [the soldier’s] family in your thoughts today, because somewhere in North Carolina a family [are] burying their son. [His] dad, brother, sisters and mother are saying goodbye today.”
On that note, Darrow’s emotional message came to a close. And since its publication on Independence Day, the post has made a considerable impact online. The passenger’s recounting of his experience went on to rack up more than 300,000 likes and in excess of 170,000 shares, in fact. There were also close to 60,000 comments underneath the touching tale.
And, unsurprisingly, most of those comments were incredibly respectful to the fallen soldier, with some Facebook users also choosing to praise Darrow for sharing the story. Of all the responses on the social media website, however, a couple in particular stood out from the crowd.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” one individual wrote alongside Darrow’s post. “I escorted my friend’s casket to the airport. We were allowed to stand on the tarmac next to the aircraft as we watched his casket being loaded. Not a dry eye on the ground. I’ll never forget that moment.”
And another commenter seemingly couldn’t help but agree with Darrow’s outlook on the situation. Much like the passenger himself, they believed that some people do take things for granted. Yet the Facebook user had a solution of sorts to help those who sometimes fail to count their blessings.
“What a somber moment that must have been!” that individual wrote. “Thank you so much for your post, and every young person in this country should be made to see this. Just so when they’re bitching and moaning some July 4, they might stop and think about this gentleman who gave his life so we could all have a beer and a dog next July 4!”
And Darrow’s words made enough of a stir that they were brought to the attention of KTVU reporter Frank Somerville – who subsequently shared the post on his own social media account. Websites such as The Western Journal and Love What Matters covered the story, too.
Darrow’s post was even published in its entirety on Love What Matters, where it went on to earn further attention. Indeed, the article has now been shared close to 2,000 times via the site’s Facebook page. The Western Journal dug up a new bit of information, though, to add to the end of its own piece on Darrow’s experience.
When the website contacted American Airlines, you see, the company’s managing director for Phoenix, John Daley, seemingly revealed that Darrow’s flight wasn’t unique for having a deceased serviceperson on board. “Whenever we have a fallen service member traveling with us, we make every possible effort to honor these heroes as they make their final journey home,” Daley revealed.