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Once in a Lifetime Reunion for Vietnam Veteran Gary Barnes

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It’s no secret that at Southwest Airlines, we’re a Company that has always shown love, support, and admiration for our Military. Whether it’s through our partnerships with military focused nonprofit organizations or through our dedication to hiring and recruiting veterans, the service men and women of our Country hold a very special place in the Heart of Southwest.


In December 2017, Southwest Customer Oliva Robles reached out to us with a unique request that came with a heartwarming story. The opening line of her email read, “78 year-old Vietnam Veteran, Gary Barnes, met his 50 year-old daughter for the first time on November 30, 2017”. I was lucky enough to be the Representative to respond to Olivia’s inquiry, and before reading any further, I already knew this was going to be an amazing opportunity to connect People to what’s important in their lives—a core Value here at Southwest. Olivia was seeking assistance with arranging roundtrip airfare for her father, a Vietnam Veteran, to travel to Florida to meet his grandchildren and great grandson—all of whom her father had never met before.


Photo by Rodney RamosPhoto by Rodney RamosAfter learning about their story, I jumped at the opportunity to make this family’s unique wish come true. It’s not every day that Southwest is able to bring together a family that has never met! Immediately, I began exploring what we could do to accommodate the family and I realized it would be a Team effort by Southwest to make the reunion happen. Because we were working under a tight deadline due to the requested travel dates, I reached out to Communication & Outreach Sr. Specialist Lori Skinner to see what options were available. Lori was also thrilled with the opportunity to bring this family together—she knew there were many Southwest Employees passionate about making the reunion a success! In no time at all, Lori and her Team arranged a roundtrip ticket for Mr. Barnes to travel between Sacramento, CA and Tampa Bay, FL.


Once the flights were booked, the Southwest Hearts in action didn’t stop there! The day of travel, Mr. Barnes was met before sunrise by Customer Service Manager Pedro Teixeira at the Sacramento Station. Pedro provided Mr. Barnes with a brand new neck pillow to ensure a comfortable travel experience! The two had an instant connection, realizing they both had recently discovered long-lost family members.


Sacramento Customer Service Manager Scott McRae and Mr. BarnesSacramento Customer Service Manager Scott McRae and Mr. Barnes

In Phoenix, Mr. Barnes’ connecting city, he was met at the gate by Customer Service Manager Scott McRae. Scott ensured Mr. Barnes had expedited transportation to his connecting flights’ gate as the two gates were in different concourses. Little did either of them know … they also shared a very similar story of connecting with biological family members through The two hit it off immediately! They were so busy swapping stories and sharing pictures that Mr. Barnes almost missed boarding his flight to Tampa, but Scott hustled to make sure Mr. Barnes got to sit in the front row, VIP style!



While Mr. Barnes was flying to his family, Tampa Customer Service Manager Myra Hitchens met Olivia, her sons, and grandson at the ticket counter prior to his arrival. Myra provided the excited family all with Non-Passenger Escort Passes to make sure they were the first faces Mr. Barnes saw when he got off the plane! It was a joyful reunion and the entire family was excited to meet their grandfather. It was extra special, as one of Olivia’s sons has a military connection just like his veteran grandfather—Ryan Johnson is currently a cadet attending West Point.



Several days after Mr. Barnes had arrived and settled in Tampa with his family, I was pleasantly surprised with a phone call from Olivia and her father. They both had me on speakerphone so we could all be part of the conversation. Mr. Barnes shared with me, “I appreciate the flight and Hospitality like you wouldn’t believe, but I could have flown here on cloud nine! I’ve been riding on it since I found my new family!” Southwest Airlines and our hardworking Team made him feel like royalty.


Photo by Scott McCraePhoto by Scott McCrae

It took many wonderful People around the Southwest system to help reunite this family. It’s clear from this experience that at Southwest Airlines, we are truly One Team, All Heart!

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