By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
China was fascinating, and the Games were fantastic -- but nothing beats coming home to the United States.
I said this a few days ago and I'll say it again, because it happened again: while we're tough on the airline industry these days, our experience on United Airlines en route to China and en route home was enough to restore one's faith in the commercial airline business. The usual caveats apply: United was the official carrier of NBC folks for these games, and yes, there was a clear effort to take good care of us. But last night on our last leg home from Chicago (where we cleared customs from Beijing), I've never seen flight attendants work harder to treat all passengers with the same respect and level of service. The same could be said for both of our China flights.
And when we got to O'Hare, we met the incredible ground supervisor Joe Sterkowicz, who made sure all the bags got to where they were supposed to go, and gave us his personal guarantee. He's a great Chicago character. He loves his great city, United Airlines, and the Chicago Bears. He also seems to love what he does, and his customers, because the greeting we received from him, and the level of personal service, were the stuff of a United Airlines commercial. I say: Joe Sterkowicz for CEO.
Everyone we met at the airport mentioned Chicago's Olympic bid, and how badly they want the Games. I'm pulling for them -- what a spectacular event that would be. We were in Chicago just long enough to watch a little local news on our station WMAQ, so I could see all my anchor buddies on the air. Sadly, we also saw the first video of the Spanair crash as well.
Sadly as well, on the broadcast tonight we will remember Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, a Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, whose death leaves us with just 101 recipients still living. Ed was a classic character -- a chopper pilot in Vietnam who knew no fear -- and so many men are alive today because of him. Pilots will appreciate these numbers: Ed had over 18,000 hours in choppers (1,000 of those just in Vietnam) and over 8,000 in fixed wing. Veterans will understand these numbers: two years in the Navy, 23 years in the Army, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, one Bronze Star, one Purple Heart, and the Medal of Honor. Ed was 80 years old.