I fly that plane called the Angel Flight. Got a hero riding with us tonight . . .
It don’t matter where we touch down. On the Angel Flight it’s sacred ground.
Radney Foster is an American singer-songwriter and music producer from Del Rio, Texas. Foster grew up in two worlds – herding cattle on horseback at his grandfather’s East Texas ranch in the summers and hunkering over a transistor radio in his West Texas hometown listening to border radio.
“My house in Del Rio was a mile from Mexico, so I heard everything growing up – from country to conjunto.” says Foster. “Telling stories is embedded and ingrained in my DNA.”
“My grandfather was a cowboy raconteur and a storyteller. He didn’t sing songs, but he sure told stories around the campfire. There’s a long, long history of yarn spinning in Texas, and I like to think I come from that tradition.” Foster continues.
Another Texas musician, Darden Smith from Austin and Lt. Col. Jim Nugent with the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation had met up at Amy’s Ice Cream, an Austin Institution. Amy’s has several locations, and one just happened to be around the corner from another Austin landmark, Waterloo Records, where music fan Nugent had just bought Smith’s latest CD.
“Darden begins a relationship (with Nugent) and begins to start thinking about having talks with the Texas National Guard about songwriting. He’s thinking at this point that it’s to help guys cope with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) issues and re-entry issues,” Foster relates.
Smith learned about “Red River 44,” a mission in Iraq in which seven Texas National Guardsmen died when their Chinook helicopter crashed outside Tallil, Iraq. “In the midst of these conversations, the Guard told him about . . . this thing they call ‘Angel Flights.'”
“He tells me the story and says, ‘Are you interested?’ and I said, ‘Oh, my God, are you kidding? Absolutely!’ So we write this song after dinner one night. Immediately I knew I had to record that song.”
The song they wrote together,”Angel Flight”, is named after the designation for the Texas Air National Guard C-130 that transports the bodies of Texas Guardsmen slain in combat.
Smith sent a heavily orchestrated version to Foster, who opted to remove almost all the other instruments. The end result is a bare-bones, gut-wrenching, emotional song with poignant but not syrupy lyrics, the kind of song at which Foster excels.
“That was my hope,” he admitted. “I wanted you to feel that sense of the last verse: ‘The cockpit’s quiet and the stars are bright. / Feels kind of like church in here tonight.’ And I wanted that feeling through the whole song.”
“I had the wonderful and yet hard opportunity to sing ‘Angel Flight’ at the service for the dedication of the memorial for the Red River 44,” Foster recalls. “It’s a lightning rod moment for me. I watched the general bend down to children my own children’s ages and hand them a folded flag for their father’s memory. I still don’t know how I got through that.”
When carrying a fallen hero the C-130 Angel Flight is always number one for takeoff and landing.
“Angel Flight” is one of the most touching stories I have ever had the opportunity to share. I hope you enjoy knowing the story behind it.