John Wakeley, a field maintenance employee at Pittsburgh International Airport, was flabbergasted when he saw how the casket of Army veteran Garrette Conn, 21, was handled.
"(They) put the flag-draped coffin on the baggage cart like a set of golf clubs," Wakeley told WTAE-TV in Pitsburgh. "I was upset. I thought it was a disgrace. Men and women have given their lives to protect the freedoms of everyone here and to me they were just being treated like a regular piece of baggage."
His coworker Mark Chamovitz felt the same way.
“When the (military) told me they were going to put them on a regular baggage cart, it sent shivers down my spine. That's not a dignified way to end a fallen hero's journey,” Chamovitz, an airport operations duty manager, told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “(The carts) are not in the greatest shape.”
So the pair came up with a plan to refurbish a baggage cart into something to honor the remains of fallen soldiers. The Vietnam Veterans of Beaver County hooked them up with Hall Industries in Ellwood City, which used spare materials to create the Honor Wagon.
The special wagon will be used to transport caskets of fallen veterans from aircraft to awaiting hearses, WTAE reported.
The refurbished cart has a hollowed-out center with room for a casket while plexiglass-like windows on both sides protect the casket while allowing it to be viewed. The exterior is covered with logos from all military branches and has 13 spear points on each side, signifying the original colonies — and the words “Never Forgotten” are inscribed on the rear, the Tribune-Review reported.
“I just feel strongly that fallen soldiers deserve better than being in the back of a pickup or on a raggedy, old belt," David McLaughlin, a veteran and plant manager of Hall Industries, told the Tribune-Review. "This will give them a little bit of honor when they come back."