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Gold Star family calls fellow fliers who booed them 'classless'

Army Sgt. John Perry, left, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 12, 2016, while stopping a suicide bomber. His father, Marine veteran Stewart Perry, right, says he and his family were booed while flying to retrieve his son's body.

By SARAH RAVANI | San Francisco Chronicle | Published: November 22, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (Tribune News Service) — Devastated by his son’s death from a bombing in Afghanistan, Stewart Perry said his anguish was overcome by anger when impatient first-class passengers booed his family because they were allowed to exit a plane ahead of them to catch a connecting flight to meet the soldier’s remains.

“I was really shocked that adult men and women — from elderly to mid-20s — would behave that way,” said Perry, a former Marine who lives in Stockton.

The Perry family’s painful journey to meet the body of Army Sgt. John Perry started Nov. 14 when they boarded an American Airlines flight to Arizona at Sacramento International Airport.

Their plane arrived in Phoenix 45 minutes later than expected, causing some panic among the Gold Star family that they would miss a connecting flight to Philadelphia, where a military driver was to meet and escort them to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The flight captain announced over the aircraft intercom that passengers should remain seated to allow for a “military family” to deplane first because they “have an important place to go,” Perry said. He said he’s not sure if the other passengers realized the captain was talking about a Gold Star family.

As Perry, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter exited the plane, they overheard passengers saying, “This is crap” and “I paid for first class, this is garbage.”

“They were asked to remain seated for just a minute or two,” Perry said. “Their reaction was overwhelmingly ridiculous. They were just classless people. They have no care in the world for anybody but themselves.”

Perry’s son — a member of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas — was one of two soldiers killed Nov. 12 when a suicide bomber attacked the Bagram Airfield, in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan.

John Perry — who turned 30 on Nov. 2 — had deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan in September.

American Airlines official said they were “honored to have the family aboard,” but did not address the rude behavior of the passengers who booed the Perry family.

“We will always make every possible effort to ensure a smooth journey in such difficult circumstances,” Ross Feinsten, a spokesman for the airlines, said in a statement Monday to The Chronicle.

Perry said he had difficulty explaining to his young daughter why they were booed by the other passengers.

“I don’t know, we will just ignore that, OK,” Perry recalled saying to his daughter. “That’s the best answer I can provide.”

American Airlines made sure the family caught their connecting flight to Philadelphia, holding the plane at the gate for them for 40 minutes, Perry said.

Perry said the passengers on his connecting flight were considerate and kind when he boarded with his family.

“They were respectful. They knew what we were here for and why they were being held,” Perry said of the passengers on the flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia. “I think it was explained to people that (this flight) was our only option.”

They made it to Dover Air Force Base in time for a ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries from Washington, D.C., on hand to honor Sgt. Perry and Pfc. Tyler R. Iubelt of Tamaroa, Ill., who was also killed in the explosion.

“He was a great kid,” Perry said of his son, who was honored at a memorial service in Lodi on Thursday and is to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

His son — who joined the Army in January 2008 — was awarded a Bronze Star, a National Defense Service Medal, three Army Commendation Medals and an Army Achievement Medal, among a number of other awards. He was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously.

“When I look at my son’s achievements in the Army, he was head and shoulders above me,” said Perry, who served in the Marines for 13 years.

John Perry was “quiet and respectful,” Stewart Perry recalled, adding that he had a love for fishing and hosted his own fishing channel on YouTube called “Fishing on Base.”

The fallen soldier is survived by his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

sravani@sfchronicle.com

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle
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