Once my airplane arrives at the gate, I make it a point to help out our Operations Agents and ask them if they have any Customers in wheelchairs. Often they appreciate the extra set of hands, and it can minimize our scheduled turn time. On a recent Dallas to Lubbock flight, although I didn’t know it at the time, I had the opportunity to bring a very special passenger down to the aircraft.
This elderly, somewhat frail gent and I struck up a conversation as I was pushing his wheelchair, and I discovered he was a WWII Army Air Corp Veteran. As a retired Navy vet, I have a special respect and admiration for all of our veterans, but especially those from Tom Brokaw’s aptly named “Greatest Generation." I asked him where he had served during the war and he uttered one word: "Tinian." That one word struck me and I had to stop so I could ask him a few questions.
For you WWII history buffs no explanation is needed. For most folks, however, Tinian doesn’t always ring a bell. Tinian Island is in the Western Pacific, and was the base from which the most famous B-29 in military and U.S. history, the Enola Gay, launched to end WWII by dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On direct orders from President Harry Truman, this mission was the dawn of the atomic age. The overwhelming destruction caused by detonating an atomic bomb was incredible, and led to the Emperor of Japan's unconditional surrender and the war in the Pacific was over some three and a half years after it began with an attack on Pearl Harbor.
My special passenger, Louis McMenamy, told me he was a Navigator on a B-29 based at Tinian Island. He had flown six missions in the B-29 before the war ended. He remembers watching the Enola Gay take off on its historic mission. Louis is a living witness to a piece of history that affects us all to this very day. You just never know who you’re going to meet on a Southwest flight.
It was my honor to meet him and a privilege to bring his wheelchair to the airplane for his trip home to Lubbock. Another great WWII Texas vet!