Three Perfect Days: Paris Vacation - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Paris

By The Hub team , July 05, 2017

Story by Boyd Farrow | Photography by Haleigh Chastain Walsworth | Hemispheres, July 2017

Paris is a cinematographer's dream. No city is more dazzling in the sunshine or sexier in the rain—or, better still, lit up at night. Which is why it is so achingly familiar to anyone who has ever bought a movie ticket. View Notre Dame from the Quai de Montebello, and you get An American in Paris; have a coffee at Café des Deux Moulins in Montmartre, and you're in Amélie. But Paris has always been as much about discovery as déjà vu. Whether it's the reinvented Pigalle, a rejuvenated République, or the rebooted Sentier district, there's always something new to besot the next generation of dreamers—and to keep the older ones returning.

Day 1 Graphic

In which Boyd wings his way through the Louvre, samples 18-month-ripened fruit, and meets a chanteuse after dark

One of the things Parisians like to say about their city is that it's endlessly walkable—the operative word here being “endlessly." While each of the city's 20 arrondissements is conquerable by foot, if you're planning to see them all in one go, you'd best pack a comfortable pair of shoes. Before I attempt (and fail) such a feat, I need to be dragged away from my breakfast in my hotel's resplendent surroundings. La Réserve, a grand mansion a block from the Palais de l'Élysée in the 8th arrondissement, was built for Napoléon III's half-brother. Now, it's a 40-room hotel and spa, all ruby-red and emerald-green silk and velvet and herringbone oak floors. I'm wedged in an armchair wiping globs of apricot jam from my cheeks when my butler appears, tactfully wondering if I'm ready for my swim.

With too much ground to cover, I instead begin the day with an earnest jaunt through the immediate neighborhood—the most central of Paris's arrondissements and the one most frequently used as a backdrop in perfume ads. Going out on Avenue Matignon, I reach Rue Saint-Honoré. Home to outposts of some of the world's most chichi fashion labels, this slender street still has its share of idiosyncratic shops, like Colette, which “curates" everything from rare sneakers to a hundred types of bottled water. Admirably, the sales assistant displays no hauteur when I ask her to remove a $5,000 rose gold iPhone from its cabinet, but she also doesn't register surprise when I hand it back. “Too heavy," I say with a wince.

Haylen Namvarazad, a musician in Paris, FranceHaylen Namvarazad, musician

Then it's off to the Louvre, where my ToursByLocals guide, Eugénie, marshals me through thickets of selfie sticks to the must-sees—Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa—while delivering factoids about the masterpieces we hurtle past. “This was the inspiration for the first FIFA World Cup trophy," she hollers over the din of the horde, as we clatter past the second-century BC marble sculpture The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

There's no time to catch my breath in the Jardin des Tuileries outside. Eugénie steers me toward the park's southwest corner and the dinky Musée de l'Orangerie. Inside, in twin oval rooms, are Monet's large-format Nymphéas (Water Lilies) paintings, which seem disconcertingly out of focus in such an intimate space. Downstairs are 120 works from Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and Cézanne. There are two portraits by Cézanne of his wife, who looks like a completely different person in each. Neither is particularly flattering. “They didn't get on," whispers Eugénie.

Lunch is at Les Chouettes, a buzzy eatery whose spacious, iron-clad interior is a blend of 1920s cocktail bar, SoHo loft, and the Eiffel Tower. In the ground-floor restaurant, far below the glass ceiling, the menu is also an artful mash-up: My dish of soft-boiled eggs baked with mushrooms and Brie de Meaux—the ultimate comfort food—is accessorized with a bang-on-trend, Instagram-ready charcoal wafer.

My next stop is Saint-Paul, a medieval neighborhood in the 4th that is often clumped in with the Marais—though it's far less self-conscious. I check out Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, the city's best-known Jesuit church. The elaborate facade is gorgeous, but most of the 17th-century art was plundered during the Revolution. Inside, two rows of golden chandeliers hint at the glory days.

“I adore going to the places the tourists go to—but late at night, when they are totally empty. Montmartre is gorgeous, but the Square du Vert-Galant, on the western tip of the Île de la Cité, is even more atmospheric." —Haylen Namvarazad

I head west past Hôtel de Ville—a post-Revolution rebuild of the 16th-century city hall, its facade teeming with statues of notable Parisians, ranging from Cardinal Richelieu to Molière—then cross Pont d'Arcole to the Île de la Cité. On this slim river island stands the city's most celebrated cathedral. Not only is Notre Dame impressively old (construction started in 1163), it's impossibly gorgeous—a Gothic extravaganza of flying buttresses, sullen gargoyles, and bristling spire. If Paris really were a film set, this would be the Tim Burton quarter.

The line to enter moves surprisingly quickly. Several people troop in, take the obligatory selfie, then shuffle out. Others sit in the candlelight, contemplating the high-vaulted nave and the 42-foot purplish South Rose window featuring the New Testament's heavy hitters. Then I notice that many of them are fast asleep. Instead of joining, I cab it back to La Réserve for a rejuvenating dip in the pool.

A couple of hours later, in a crisp shirt and my loosest pants, I leave the hotel once more. I have scored a table at three-Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno's restaurant at the nearby Pavillon Ledoyen. My seven-course meal contains two of the best things I have ever eaten: a millefeuille of celeriac and 18-month-ripened avocado, with coconut extraction and chia seeds, and “Stroganoff-style" Wagyu beef. The avocado explodes in my mouth without any of the sweetness I was dreading—the waiter tells me a regular avocado mellows for just three months—but, to be honest, they had me at “Would sir like some bread?" There is even time for a chocolate nib and black olive soufflé before my taxi rolls up.

A view through the clock face at the Mus\u00e9e d'OrsayA view through the clock face at the Musée d'Orsay

Soon I'm in Pigalle, the storied red light district on the fringes of Montmartre. Much of this dirty old neighborhood has been cleaned up. The Moulin Rouge, immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec, looks as if it belongs in Vegas, and the area's new boutiques and bars, with names such as Dirty Dick, are freighted with hipster irony.

I'm meeting the singer and Pigalle habitué Haylen Namvarazad. I spot her waiting for me on the still slightly sleazy Rue Pierre Fontaine, but the bar we're meant to be going to doesn't seem to exist. L'Orphée is hidden behind the frontage of a former massage parlor and reached only by pressing an unmarked buzzer, then passing through a strip-lit corridor and a second unmarked door. I can't help thinking about the last 10 minutes of Taxi Driver.

After years of busking in Metro stations, Namvarazad found fame on a TV talent show and has since starred in the hit rock opera Le Rouge et le Noir. Musicians come to L'Orphée to jam in its red glow after hours. Tonight, a bearded singer delivers a bluesy rendition of “Hit the Road Jack." A guy with a falsetto pays tribute to Ed Sheeran. Namvarazad channels Amy Winehouse with a tingling take on “Back to Black."

Parisians on \u00cele Saint-LouisParisians on Île Saint-Louis

“This is the real spirit of Paris," she says over a Desperados beer with a lime wedge. “It is creative, inclusive, optimistic. This city is very tribal, but in bars like this it doesn't matter where you're from or what stage your career is at. It's people doing what they love and helping each other out."

The loveliness of Paris has drawn artists for centuries, but you do wonder about living here, whether a person might start taking it for granted. “I was born here, and yet there is not a single day that I'm not aware of its beauty," Namvarazad says. “Or rather, there is not a single night. When there is no one around and the city is lit up, it is magical. How could anyone not be inspired?"

Later, as my cab bounces past sprays of flowers cascading from tiny balconies, I see what she means. I can barely keep my eye on the meter.

Day 2 Graphic

In which Boyd encounters a large cheese, a large religious work of art, and a very, very large fish

An early start. I drop my bags in my minimal room at the Amastan, a small design-focused hotel at the foot of the Champs-Élysées. On one wall hangs a rug that drapes the sofa before continuing to cover the floor. Talk about minimal. After scarfing down some baby croissants in the courtyard, I head east to Le Marché Popincourt in the 11th arrondissement, where I meet Pierre Sang Boyer, owner of two eponymous restaurants nearby.

Boyer, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a French family when he was 7, is one of the city's hottest chefs. He is also, by his own admission, a produce nerd. He squeals with pleasure at every stall, snapping stalks, fondling tubers, stroking fish, massaging poultry. “Look, this langoustine is still alive," he chirps, dangling a twitching crustacean in my face.

“Markets remind us that we are all part of the same chain," Boyer continues, hurrying on to another fascinating stall. “The farmer, the person preparing the food, the person eating it." He stops before a meat display and asks a vendor to cut me some salami. As I chew, I notice a sign: Boucher Cheval, or horse butcher. “Delicious," I whimper.

Pierre Sang Boyer, chefPierre Sang Boyer, chef

This part of the 11th has a lively nightlife scene, but by day its narrow streets teem with grocers hosing down sidewalks, shoppers swinging baskets, and men hauling sacks of produce. In Le Jardin Fromager, matronly Madame Sananès vacuum-packs a whole Camembert de Normandie for me to take home. In Poissonnerie Lacroix, Charly Hanafi gives me herring that's been marinated for days in garlic and onions. I can smell the thing from six feet away, but at least it gets rid of the taste of Seabiscuit.

At Boyer's pared-back restaurants (a walk-in counter that straddles the corner of rues Gambey and Oberkampf and a more upmarket spot about 100 feet away), there are no menus. Diners get a bunch of small plates, their contents dictated by the freshest ingredients that day. I decide to try out both kitchens. At the small one, I sample the radishes and spring onions Boyer scored at the market, served with shrimp and chili flakes, followed by slow-cooked pork belly in ssamjang, a sauce made with chili and fermented soybean paste. At the ritzier joint, I'm served a slab of seared beef with the same zingy ssamjang. As fusion food goes, French-Korean is tough to beat. Also, I can light my candle just by breathing on it.

Another Metro ride takes me to the Musée d'Orsay, the former grand railway station on the Left Bank of the Seine that now houses some of the greatest European art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. At the security check, the guards eye my sealed camembert suspiciously. Inside, the museum still feels like a train station, its concourse filled with people in a hurry to get somewhere else—possibly the Impressionism section on the fifth floor. Here, people are queuing up with their selfie sticks to insert themselves among the revelers in Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette or to photobomb Van Gogh's Self-Portrait. Two years ago, the Musée was forced to lift its photo ban after someone noticed that France's culture minister had posted photos she took there on Instagram. Selfie sticks remain forbidden, but no one seems to care.

“In many other cities, it is the artists who are responsible for rejuvenating areas. In Paris, it is restaurateurs. That says a lot about how important food culture is to Parisians." —Pierre Sang Boyer

Next, I cross the Léopold Sédar Senghor footbridge, recently purged of its burdensome lovers' padlocks, and pass back through the Jardin des Tuileries, to the hotel Le Meurice, on Rue de Rivoli, for afternoon tea. Only in Paris can a pastry chef be a superstar, and the pâtissier here, Cédric Grolet, is Ryan Gosling in a toque. Grolet is famous for his ambitious trompe l'oeil confections; I sample a tart that looks exactly like a real apple. It is good—and you have to admire the evil genius who disguises cake as fruit—but I prefer the gooey caramel-and-pistachio cookie.

A short stroll northwest takes me to La Madeleine, the Greek temple–like church built to celebrate the glory of Napoleon's army. Fifty-two Corinthian columns, each 65 feet tall, skirt the exterior. In the gilded interior, the dominant fresco resembles the Sgt. Pepper's album cover, with Napoleon surrounded by Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, Dante, Raphael, and Pope Pius VII, among others. Clearly, the Little Corporal was not short on self-esteem.

From here I'm off to Abbesses—which, at 118 feet down, is the Metro's deepest station—to explore hilly Montmartre. Having learned that the station elevator is broken, I wheeze up 90 spiraling steps before surfacing into what appears to be the set of Amélie. A cobbled square is framed by colored crêperies—all called Chez this or Le Petit that—while sketch artists sit at easels and vendors hawk roses. All that's missing is … no, wait, there is someone playing an accordion.

Parisians enjoying the grounds of La Basilique du Sacr\u00e9-CoeurParisians enjoying the grounds of La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur

I check out the Sacré-Cœur, the 272-foot basilica at the top of Montmartre's butte, the highest point in the city after the Eiffel Tower. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914—as a penance or a pick-me-up after France lost its war with Prussia, it's hard to say. Inside, a half dozen Benedictine sisters are beginning their vespers. Even above the mumble of tourists, the Latin song is ethereal and lovely, amplified by the huge apse rendered with a mosaic of Christ, in white, arms extended. I sit down with my giant cheese and watch as people file in and light votives or stealthily angle their phones for the ultimate shot: a selfie with Jesus.

For dinner, I head to the 1st arrondissement to meet my friend Sara at the Fish Club, a seafood restaurant from the team behind London's Experimental Group. At 8:30, Sarah and I are the only ones here—but by the time we've drained a couple of drinks, the place is jammed, and I have to raise my voice to order the special: grilled sea bream, which our waitress says is big enough to share. No kidding. Other diners leave their own meals to Instagram our monster catch. Fileted tableside, it is so good we don't touch our greens.

I'm exhausted, but Sara tells me that the Experimental guys have a speakeasy next door. Beyond an unmarked (of course) entrance, we feel our way down a metal stairway and arrive in a barely lit bar with low velvet seating and a well-dressed—as far as I can tell—crowd. I down a Bourbon & French; Sara knocks back something citrusy. “Quick, let's make a run for it," she jokes. Or it may have been a delinquent on an adjoining banquette. Either way, we decide to stay for more cocktails.

By the time we leave, I'm so relaxed I hail a cab standing in the middle of the street. The driver looks terrified. Now, if I could only remember where I put my room key.

Day 3 Graphic

In which Boyd breakfasts like Ernest Hemingway, shops like Louis XV, and has a Hugh Grant–like effect on the ladies

I check into the grand Hôtel Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne, the backdrop for Carrie Bradshaw's Paris adventures in the last two episodes of Sex and the City. The iconic red awnings match my eyes. After a refreshing shower, I head for the Left Bank.

The 5th and 6th arrondissements, along the Seine's southern bank, used to be a bohemian enclave, home to struggling artists like Picasso and Matisse. Today, you'd have to sell a Picasso just to buy a small studio here. Next to Les Deux Magots, the café where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to hang out, stands a Louis Vuitton store.

The café now offers a “Sartre" breakfast, which includes yogurt or fruit salad, and the more robust “Hemingway," which has bacon and fried eggs but, disappointingly, no whiskey. I settle for a croque monsieur.

Tanya Blumstein, movie dialect coachTanya Blumstein, movie dialect coach

Despite its embourgeoisement, the Rive Gauche (South Bank) hasn't lost its soul. The cobbled streets and tastefully worn courtyards, along with a bounty of medieval churches, give the area a timeless feel. I especially enjoy the sixth-century Église de Saint Germain-des-Prés, the oldest Romanesque church in Paris, its square tower the focal point of the 6th. Some of the shops seem almost as old. Cire Trudon's origins date to 1643, when it was founded as a candle shop. (Its wares lit Louis XV's court.) Now it supplies tourists with $100-plus wax busts of Marie-Antoinette and Napoléon.

I head east along Boulevard Saint-Germain to the 5th arrondissement, known as the Quartier Latin since the 13th century (when the Sorbonne was founded and Latin was the language of learning). I zip around the Panthéon, the glorious Neoclassical monument that Louis XV built as a thank-you to God after he survived what was probably a case of man flu. Now it houses the tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie.

Not feeling too lively myself, I loop back to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I slump into a garden chair. With 60 acres of immaculate parkland around me, the only sound is the crunch of gravel as the occasional jogger goes by. These are Parisian joggers, so no one is wearing lime Lycra. One woman may actually be wearing heels. On my way out, I step into the sweet little Musée du Luxembourg to catch an exhibition of Pissarro's later pastoral scenes—a nice bonus.

“Parisians tend to enjoy life more—spending time with family, enjoying their surroundings. Of course, it does help when your surroundings are this beautiful." —Tanya Blumstein

After enjoying a fortifying salad of quinoa, goat cheese, and broccoli at the restaurant at Hôtel Bachaumont, which anchors the newly fashionable Rue Bachaumont in the 2nd arrondissement, I walk south to check out Paris's regeneration project du jour, the billion-euro revamp of the previously forlorn Les Halles shopping mall. Approaching Les Halles from the north takes me past one of the loveliest buildings in Paris—which is saying something. Église St-Eustache, built between 1532 and 1637, is primarily Gothic, though a Neoclassical facade was slapped on its western side in the 18th century. On a wall inside hangs a Rubens painting; outside stands a gigantic Henri de Miller sculpture of a head and hand. All this makes the new retail and leisure complex look even more weirdly modern. Les Halles's curvy yellow six-acre canopy makes it seem as if someone has dropped a giant omelette on the city.

A 15-minute stroll brings me to Rue des Rosiers, the higgledy-piggledy center of the Marais and the heart of the Jewish community. Poignantly, the sign outside the bustling kosher bakery Sacha Finkelsztajn announces the community's postwar comeback: “From Father to Son since 1946."

The view from the H\u00f4tel Plaza Ath\u00e9n\u00e9eThe view from the Hôtel Plaza Athénée

Dotting the medieval warren are many enchanting gardens. Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris and regarded as one of the best, but I prefer the smaller Square Georges Cain, which is filled with treasures from the adjacent Musée Carnavalet. One of the most intriguing objects is a small electronic bird designed to sing like a nightingale when the wind blows. I don't hear any birdsong, but the gate screeches like an angry parrot.

Near the Carreau du Temple—an iconic industrial market that reopened in 2014 as a cultural and exhibition venue—I meet Massachusetts-born Tanya Blumstein, who was so smitten when she arrived in Paris more than 20 years ago that she never went back. “It just felt like home as soon as I got here," says Blumstein, a voice and dialect coach for theater and film who recently worked with Natalie Portman on Jackie. “Everywhere here has a real community feel. You tend to keep an eye on your neighbors' kids; you know your butcher, baker, and florist. In most big cities, people don't live like that anymore."

We mooch around some of the city's most gentrified rues Saintonge, Bretagne, Poitou. On the corner of Poitou is the Petit Moulin, a tiny hotel that's housed in a former boulangerie and whose interiors are a riot of Christian Lacroix. As we pass, the actor Pierre Niney, who played Yves Saint Laurent in a 2014 biopic, cycles past. Could this be any more French?

Notre Dame from across the SeineNotre Dame from across the Seine

It could. In Jacques Genin's showroom-size chocolate shop on lively Rue de Turenne, a loved-up couple agonizes over a chocolate display as if choosing an engagement ring. I'm agonizing too, over how many kirsch caramels I dare take from the sample jar.

The Marais has long been Paris's most BoBo (Bourgeois Bohemian) area, but things may have gotten out of hand. At Nanashi on Rue Charlot, vegetarian “Parisian Bento" boxes are served by staffers with lion-tamer mustaches. We pause to nibble retro shortbread at Bontemps, a patisserie opened by a former financier, and sip blueberry-lavender smoothies at Wild & The Moon.

Back at the decidedly un-BoBo Plaza Athénée, I soothe my limbs in a deep marble tub. The blisters on my feet are so big they may soon need their own arrondissement. I'm dining in the hotel restaurant tonight, and I wonder if the dress code extends to the fluffy white slippers that were left beside my bed.

That dinner, taken in a corner berth in the handsome Le Relais Plaza brasserie, is a gratifyingly no-nonsense affair: an entrée-size starter of crevette salad, tender beef served with mashed potatoes, and a trio of sorbets. I'm glad I went with regular shoes—I have to walk at least some of the bread basket off before I can even contemplate going to sleep.

I cross nearby Pont de l'Alma and walk along the Left Bank, admiring the way each building is subtly and artfully lit, like movie stars in a black-and-white film. I can hear the chatter of tourists pleasure-cruising the Seine and the muffled voices of a couple sharing a bottle of wine by the water's edge. People throng outside Faust, a nightclub beneath the exuberant Pont Alexandre III. As I thread my way through the crowd, a young Frenchwoman bumps into me, spilling wine down my shirt. Being English, I apologize. She smiles, kisses my cheek, and disappears. Okay, so it's not a Robert Doisneau moment, but it's not a bad way to say goodnight to the city—the Eiffel Tower to the west, its sparkling light show reminding us that the clock has just struck 12.

Berlin-based writer Boyd Farrow is not the first person to fall in love in Paris. Three weeks after he returned home, he is still blissfully happy with his camembert.

Reflecting on Veterans Day: a message from our CEO Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , November 11, 2019

Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.

When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.

They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.

I want them to look no further than United Airlines.

That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.

They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.

That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.

We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.

We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.

We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.

As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.

Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.

They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.

Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.

Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.

Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.

But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.

We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.

It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.

On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.

Humbly,

Oscar

United named a top workplace for veterans

By The Hub team , November 10, 2019

Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.

"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."

Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.

Mission Accomplished

By Matt Adams , November 06, 2019

The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.

Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.

Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.

Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.

"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."

When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.

For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.

Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.

That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.

"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."

The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.

About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.

"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."

When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.

"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."

On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.

"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."

For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.

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