By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
We have been involved as a country for several months now in various controversies about the national anthem, kneeling, protesting, the NFL, and the latest proof that our 1st Amendment protected freedom of expression is alive and well in America is broadcast on radio and TV day to day. In America, we are free to protest, and our soldiers, first responders, law enforcement officers and officers of the court see to it that peaceful protest is protected. There is nothing new about this, and it is one of the things that makes the American Experiment so amazing.
However, suppression of patriotic expression took on a new twist this past week when a Georgia surgeon aboard a Delta flight from Philly to Atlanta, which was also transporting one of the bodies of the 4 soldiers recently killed in Niger, was told she could not join other passengers in singing the Star Spangled Banner in his honor. The name of the fallen was Staff Sgt Dustin Wright, and the name of the physician who wanted to honor him by singing the national anthem with fellow passengers is Dr. Pamela Gaudry. Dr. Pamela is from Savannah. She and her fellow would-be singers were told that other passengers from other countries who might be on board could be made “uncomfortable.”
"I couldn't put up with that," Gaudry told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. "I wouldn't be offended if I was in their country."
Not one to make trouble or a scene, she decided to be quiet until she got off the plane, but she had time to think about what happened while she rested her head on the seatback in front of her. As soon as she de-planed, she recorded a six-and-a-half-minute video on her phone and put it on Facebook. Just three days ago there were more than 778,000 views.
What is so odd about this incident is that the pilot announced over the loudspeaker at the beginning of the flight that Dustin’s body was on board, and there was a virtual groundswell amongst the passengers in response. Dr. Gaudry began asking other passengers if they could join together in singing the national anthem, and they enthusiastically agreed. I have been on flights when soldiers were honored, and there was never any concern about anything or anyone but the brave who were on board.
They started to sing, and then the chief flight attendant came back to Dr. Gaudry’s seat, knelt down, and told her that it was “against company policy to do what you are doing.” As recorded in her viral video, Gaudry later went on to ask the flight attendant, “The national anthem? And there’s a soldier onboard?” The flight attendant reiterated that they could not sing the national anthem, and that it was against company policy. One of the most poignant parts of her “recorded confession” was when Pamela said, “I just did the most uncourageous thing in my life today.”
Anthony Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta, declined to comment on the specifics of Dr. Gaudry’s incident, but he did say, "There is not a policy about singing the national anthem, period."
What is Delta policy is that it is not allowed to release the identity of a fallen soldier to other passengers during the course of the flight, and that makes sense from an operational security standpoint. You never know who is on board, or their possible connection to the deceased.
With regard to her video, Dr. Gaudry said, "If it instigates a spiritual and patriotic feeling in this country, I'm thrilled.” She added, "I'm not real thrilled with the attention to myself.” It seems that the theme of this edition of Athens Now is doing the right thing and suffering the consequences, and what I particularly appreciate is that though she caved a bit in the moment, she re-thought her position and let everyone know the good, the bad and the ugly of what had just happened. In my opinion, that shows true courage, even if it came in the form of a second chance. In my book, Gaudry has guts.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner