As an escort for the repatriation of Craig’s remains, Sandoz’s responsibilities included ensuring the remains were properly wrapped in wool, providing a uniform for the sailor and making sure the square knot is tied correctly, and seeing that the casket is properly handled and safely transported. In Little Rock, she would follow the hearse to the mortuary.
It was Sandoz’ first time serving as an escort for remains of the fallen. She volunteered for the duty.
“Not a lot of people want to do it because it’s very emotional,” she said. “The people I work with said, ‘You know what, you might be a person who can handle it.’”
She said when she saw the casket, “my prayer really was for the family,” Sandoz said. “They’ve been in mourning all this time. I hope, I pray it brings a lot of healing to the family.”
As the plane landed, the volunteer Delta Honor Guard began assembling to pay tribute to the fallen. Among them were employees of Delta Air Lines and the Transportation Security Administration. They gathered for a brief ceremony as the casket descended from the cargo hold and was loaded onto a specially designed cart.
“It’s an honor getting these guys back home, back home to their families,” said Delta Honor Guard coordinator Brian McConnell. Hundreds of repatriations have come through Atlanta over the years, he said.
Craig, from Monroe, Ark., was assigned to battleship USS Oklahoma, moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor when Japanese military aircraft attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. The torpedoed ship quickly capsized, and 429 died.
In 2015, advances in forensic techniques with DNA prompted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to begin exhuming remains of Pearl Harbor sailors and Marines from Punchbowl.
In late 2017, through mitochondrial DNA, dental and anthropological analysis and other evidence, Craig's remains were finally identified. A rosette could be added to his name on the memorial at Punchbowl denoting that he is no longer missing. More than 72,000 service members killed during World War II remain unaccounted for.
Atlanta airport chaplain Donna Mote, who met Sandoz upon her arrival, regularly greets and assists those traveling with the remains of fallen military. She finds it profoundly moving.
“These are young people who were young when my dad was young,” Mote said. “It’s poignant.”
Patriot Guard Riders organized an honor mission to greet Craig’s remains at Little Rock National Airport and at the funeral home and veterans cemetery. He will be buried with military honors.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a proclamation designating Friday as John W. Craig Memorial Day in that state. The state flag will fly at half-staff from sunrise Thursday until sunset Friday in Craig’s honor.