As a young Stewardess, BJ Elliott Prior transported troops in and out of Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. After 40 years of flying for Continental Airlines, the passion grew to share the stories of flying Vietnam soldiers in and out of the war-zones. In Behind My Wings, she writes about her life, as well as stories about Vietnam Veterans. Since publishing the book, she has been traveling and speaking across the country to over 50 Veterans Organizations. Below is an excerpt from her speech on Memorial Day 2018.
As a young stewardess transporting soldiers to Vietnam from 1969 to 1971, I was an eyewitness to these brave young men. It took them 22 hours traveling by air over the Pacific to arrive in Vietnam. We saw courage and discipline as they deplaned our aircrafts, ready to fulfill their bound duties.
Our Veterans teach us about honor and respect. Their service to our country is commendable. Their tours of duty do not end when they no longer wear their uniforms. Veterans remember the meaning of the flag and carry a burden for fallen soldiers, POWs, MIAs, and other Veterans who are in need.
After writing Behind My Wings, I began calling upon various Military Posts asking if I could share my story and the stories of the young men we took to Vietnam. Walking into each Post, you can’t help but notice the camaraderie among Veterans.
I have had the privilege of observing them while they honor the flag, and I have joined them in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Chaplain’s prayer brings their meetings to order. You cannot help but notice the patriotism and the honor that has been instilled in them from day one of boot camp.
During one-on-one conversations with Veterans, they always mention those who did not make it. The losses still linger within their hearts.
Because my parents were deaf, we didn't own a TV or radio when I was growing up, so I didn't learn to value patriotism from what I heard as a child. I became intensely patriotic after Vietnam. We should never let any generation forget our fallen soldiers. Patriotism is deeply embedded in the soul of America.
On the eve of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke eloquently of the Four American values of freedom. After hearing the president's speech, Norman Rockwell painted four different scenes of the average American family representing each of these Freedoms. They are:
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedom of Worship
- Freedom from Fear
- Freedom from Want
We could not have these freedoms if it were not for our Military men and women. Each time they put on their uniform, they are standing for these freedoms.
A Greek philosopher once said,
Because of the sacrifices of so many, I can stand here today, testifying that our fallen soldiers gave their all for our country. On my return flights from Vietnam, the fallen soldiers were quietly and quickly placed in our cargo bin. There was no flag draped over their wooden caskets and no salute. Most were 18- or 19-years old. We were in the midst of war, and that was how it was. But when we landed back in the states, they each came out of our cargo bins draped with our American Flag and transported in honor by other military soldiers.
Let us also never forget the POWs, many who did not make it through the atrocities of war. While writing their stories and capturing a piece of history, the POWs had a very profound emotional impact on me. It was their patriotism and their faith in God that gave them hope and the will to survive under extreme conditions.
The MIAs, those missing in action even to this day, still leave a massive hole in our hearts and within the heart of our nation. Navy Lieutenant Dave Singstock, who was assigned to the Gallup gunboat in Vietnam, shared that their gunboat cruised up and down the China seas in search and rescue missions. Continually facing danger and encountering battles, he shared the sadness of never finding one pilot who had been shot down. I believe the seas hold many of our MIAs, and in heaven, there will be great reunions.
I also believe that liberty is a gift from our Creator and freedom comes from our Armed Service men and women. The trauma of tragedy and loss would not be bearable, except for our loving and compassionate God. Only He can heal the wounds of those who have been affected.
May God Bless Veterans, and may He comfort the families all across America who have lost loved ones.