A Flight to Remember
Heather Gray is a 2002 alumnus of Charleston Southern University. It was on campus where she first met David Gray, a member of the Air Force ROTC program at the university. They eventually married and had three beautiful children. On August 12, 2012 Maj. Walter D. Gray died from injuries suffered during a suicide bomb attack in Kunar province, Afghanistan. In honor of her late husband, and all the men and women who serve the United States military, Heather Gray shares the following short story from her journey.
We were going to be riding in the belly of a metal whale. After days of scrubbed flights, we finally won the lottery that is Space Available travel and the kids and I boarded the C-17 in the wee hours of the morning. We were stationed in Germany and my husband’s job with the Air Force kept him away frequently. So when he left for another trip, I decided to go back to the states for a little while to pass the time. We took our places in the cargo net seats and thankfully, my three children slept the first couple hours of the long flight from Ramstein to Dover, Delaware. A benefit of military flights is the freedom to move around. The kids took off to explore. When I followed them behind a series of crates toward the back of the plane, I was startled to discover a flag draped coffin. I screamed at my young and unknowing children just before they climbed on. Then I felt a hand lightly touch my arm. The deep creases in his face and the look in his eyes told me the soldier standing by the coffin had seen much. “Leave them be,” he said. “That kid died so they’d have the freedom to play. He’d be honored to serve them.” What I originally considered merely a flight to transport cargo and people like us, was in reality, a flight to take this brave soldier home. The war weary soldier by his side was his escort. A time honored tradition in the military. The fallen are never left behind; never forsaken. That man would stay by his side all the way to his final resting place. The flag draping his coffin would eventually be folded and given to a grieving family member. Today I know what it feels like to be that grieving family member. In August of 2012, my husband was killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber that attacked his unit. While at times the void left by his death threatens to consume me, I know he died answering what he believed to be God’s calling on his life. In a letter I received the day of his funeral, he quoted Isaiah 6:8, “And the Lord said, whom shall I send? And I said, here I am Lord. Send me.” He was writing to answer my question of why he was willing to risk his life for his country. Like David, I don’t believe God will call us to do anything that He hasn’t already begun to prepare us for. All we have to do is volunteer for service. But in the blur of our finite vision, we tend to focus on the seeming impossibility of overcoming what lies ahead and in the process trip over God's provision that is right before us. Corrie Ten Boom said, “every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” So as TAPS filled the August air of Arlington National Cemetery, I remembered the patriotism I had felt on that plane several years before. In that moment I asked God to be my escort. To be the one who stayed by my side all the way to the end of my journey. I begged Him to help me not doubt in the dark what He had promised in the light. I cling to the promise He will never leave me or forsake me, no matter where He calls me to go.
For more information on Heather and David Gray, visit FinishStrongMinistries.org online.