Editor's note: After you read the story below click here to learn about a very significant day this week for Christian Brown!
“I have been flying with Delta for a gazillion years and this crew treated Chris worse than you’d treat any thing, not even any body." That was the opening line of retired Army Lt. Col. Keith Gafford, during a phone interview about the egregious treatment on Delta Airlines of fellow veteran, Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Brown, who is now a double amputee following severe injuries acquired while serving in Afghanistan.
"I did 27 years in the military. I have seen a lot of things and have seen a lot of guys die, but I have never seen a Marine cry,” added Gafford. “What the kid said was, ‘I have given everything that I can give and this is the way I am being treated? This is how I will be treated for the rest of my life?’”
Gafford's stern words came in defense of Brown, who just last Sunday was "humiliated" to the point of tears during a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington. According to the Washington Post, the Marine was treated disrespectfully and clumsily when he was wheeled to the very back of the plane.
To make matters worse, retired Army Col. Nickey Knighton, who along with Gafford were on board at the time provided a detailed and scathing “customer care” report to Delta after other vets attempted to move Brown from coach to a first class seat offered by another flyer, but were refused by the in-flight crew. WaPo provides context including the fact that Brown was ill with a 104 degree temperature at the during the flight:
On Dec. 13, 2011, Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Brown was leading his squad on a foot patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when he stepped on an explosive device that blew off both his legs, one above the knee, the other below his hip. He also lost part of his right index finger.
Knighton, a former helicopter pilot with nearly 30 years of service, who turned out to be seated in the same back row as Brown, assumed that because he boarded last, he would be seated up front for comfort and ease of exit in case of emergency. Instead, she wrote in a complaint obtained by “She The People,” he was squeezed into a narrow aviation wheelchair that “bumped up against stationary aisle seats as he was wheeled through the aircraft. [He] was obviously humiliated by being paraded through the aircraft and was visibly upset. I touched Brown on his shoulders and asked if he was okay. Tears ran down his face, but he did not cry out loud.”
What Knighton did not tell Delta, perhaps because she did not know, was that Brown, 29, was also very ill with a high fever. He was returning, via Atlanta, from a hunting trip in Alabama for injured service members to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Injured on his second deployment to Afghanistan after joining the Marines in April, 2009, Brown has spent nearly a year at the complex outside Washington, D.C.
Brown, a strapping six-footer when he enlisted, was flying back to Washington with a military “escort buddy,” but his mother told me that had she been with her son, “it would have turned out a little bit differently. I just can’t imagine what it was like for him, being that sick. He had a 104-degree fever and he was shaking. He was quite obviously sick.”
Brown and his mother, who live 25 miles north of Memphis in the town of Munford, declined to offer specifics about what he actually experienced on the plane.
During his phone interview, Gafford added that two first-class passengers offered Brown their seats, “but the flight attendant said we have to go."
"How many times have we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes? You could close the door and still make an adjustment,” he said soberly before blasting the flight-crew for being “hard as woodpecker lips.”
Meanwhile, Delta communications spokesman Michael R. Thomas offered an email-statement addressing Knighton’s letter:
“The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”
When Thomas was pressed on what those next steps might be, he replied by email: “As previously stated, we are actively looking into the incident and have no additional details to share at this time.”
At the end of the day, what matters most to Knighton is that other wounded warrior are not degraded or treated in such a disrespectful manner.
“I don’t want another wounded warrior, a veteran, or anyone with any type of disability to be handled in this fashion. It was just senseless to me to the point of, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”