Exploring the land of smiles
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By San Francisco-based Base Technician James Hoang
Early in June this year, a good friend and co-worker of mine, Allen Chang, inquired about the places to visit in Thailand. So I took the opportunity to take his family on a tour around the "Land of Smiles." We flew to Korea and enjoyed a few hours at the airport in Incheon. When we arrived in Bangkok, my friend and driver, Chok, gladly picked us up. We were worn out from the long-haul and connecting flights, so we rested that day. The following day, however, we were already early and excited to go on our excursion.
The Chao Phraya is the major river in Thailand and one of the most convenient ways to visit the numerous temples in Bangkok. We boarded one of the small tour boats waiting at the pier and visited several temples built along the river. It was a simple hop on and hop off as we traveled up the river. We were amazed by the details of some of the decorations and hand carved statures as well as the unforgettable sense of peace and tranquility once we set foot in these temples.
Allen's two sons convinced us to visit Phra Prang Sam Yot, a monkey temple that is located in Lopburi, a two-and-a-half hour drive north of Bangkok. The place is known for its monkey festival, which is held every last Sunday of November and has been featured on National Geographic. Lopburi is home to more than 2,000 monkeys, and they are very honored and celebrated by the local people. They are fed by the locals and, since they are not afraid of human contact, they steal whatever items or food they can find from unwary tourists.
Traditionally, long tables are set up early in the morning before the festival. Fruits and vegetables are then placed on top of the tables and are covered with large cloths. After the monks give their blessing and the townspeople show their appreciation, the festivities start and the monkeys come by the hundreds and grab whatever fruits or treats they can get their hands on. So you can just imagine the energy, noise and clamor from the monkeys and the people alike. It was truly fascinating.
Our encounter with the monkeys was absolutely awesome. They're very friendly and always curious, especially when it comes to shiny objects. So it's definitely advisable to leave anything valuable in your car because, once they grab it, you'll never get it back!
Our next destination was the River Kwai, which is a three-hour drive east of Bangkok. We had the chance to explore the famous bridge of the Burma Railway, which crosses the river at Tha Makham Subdistrict of the Mueang District. Crossing the narrow bridge gave us the sense of understanding and a piece of Thai history and culture.
Thailand's countryside is extremely beautiful, with lush green trees that lined the roads. The view of cascading limestone mountains was magnificent. Not to mention the fruit and barbecue stands that often refueled our taste buds.
Our final destination was the town of Kanchanaburi, a historical town known for its infamous World War II Death Railway to Burma (now Myanmar). It is also known for its accessible waterfalls and national parks. But what really drew us to Kanchanaburi was the ElephantsWorld, a nonprofit organization that offers a safe sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants in Thailand.
We couldn't contain our excitement when we finally experienced our elephant encounter. We got acquainted with these beautiful creatures after feeding them. It was then when we realized that elephants have a docile and gentle demeanor. Our entire day was spent with them as we enjoyed the fun in the sun, warm breeze and the gentle, flowing river that is surrounded by thick covered leaves. Our excitement could not be contained -- we were just like kids in the playground full of joy and laughter. The elephants enjoyed us as well, and they most definitely enjoyed the body scrub we gave them.
When we returned the elephants to their safe house, one of my friend's sons fell into tears. He didn't want to leave the river. I heard my friend whisper to the elephant, "I will see you again, soon."
Our trip to Thailand was short, but most of all it was memorable. The memories we've shared, most especially with my friend's two boys, were really worth our while. From the monkey encounter (they've conquered their fears of interacting with them) to admiring the spectacular mountains, views and rivers that surround Thailand, to experiencing the love and warmth of the elephants, Thailand is truly unforgettable.
As I end my travel blog, I would like to say in Thai, "Khob Khun Krab!" which means "Thank you!"
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.
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.
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.