Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Loneliest Vigil

The snow was falling over the empty hole in the ground. The fresh dirt was discretely covered with a green piece of carpet. Stone markets laid all around in perfect formation. Warriors buried with honor and dignity were laid to rest here, their place in the formation saved for only the most brave and noble of all soldiers.

The sky turned a murky grey color as the pure white snow fell even faster. The funeral detail marched into their positions, no commands were given, everybody knew their job. The only sound was the clip clop of steel heeled shoes as they marched down the pavement. The firing party was in position, their blue dress uniforms were unsoiled and perfect. The white dress gloves almost camouflage against the snow. M14 rifles with polished stocks and white slings also spotless. The bugler stood at the ready his red hat and polished bugle shone bright despite the grey and solemn mood. The flag folding detail stood on the road, waiting to carry the hero to his final resting place. The chaplain and the Arlington lady stood respectfully next to the grave, patiently waiting.

The hearse arrived to discharge it's passenger, but something was different, something was not right, the hearse was alone, no limo, no mile long procession to lay this hero to rest. Just a hearse with one lonely passenger. With honor and reverence he was removed and carried, feet first, to his new home. The Chaplain spoke a little and said the prayers. When he finished, he backed slowly away and the casket was laid in the ground, the flag pulled tight, snapping in the crisp snowy air, removing all trace of the offending snow from the glorious colors.

The firing party, forgotten statues in the distance, came to life. All that is heard is "Ready, aim," BANG. The white gloved hands move in unison as they rack another round into the chamber. "Ready, aim," BANG. "Ready, aim," BANG. "Present, arms." Another round of seven men moving in unison as the final honors are given. Taps begins to play from the bugler as the flag is folded. The final fold is completed at the same time as the final note of taps. The flag is passed to the burial detail commander who inspects it for any irregularities, there is none, as a matter of fact it was perfect, absolutely perfect. He hands it to the chaplain, who than passes it to the Arlington lady.

The funeral detail marches off the ground and onto the bus. All is quiet aboard. There is none of the usual joking and ribbing. Just a solemn quiet of reverence and respect.

This happened many years ago, yet it sticks with me to this day. I do not remember having a burial this perfect out of all that I did while assigned to The Old Guard in Arlington, VA. The flag was folded perfectly. The firing party was exceptional, nothing was out of place, all twentyone rounds were three distinct cracks. The bugler sounded as if he put a little bit of his own soul into taps. Not a single movement was out of place, and yet there wasn't a dry eye in the bunch. We all knew what was at stake. Our mission was to see his final send off, even when no one else would. Shamefully, I cannot tell you his name, I do not remember it. It has been ten years since I walked upon that hallowed ground, but I can take you to his grave. The Arlington ladies were wives of retired officers who donated their time so that nobody was laid to rest alone. They are not a very well known part of the process, but their contribution is a valuable one. I was to young to fully appreciate alot of things I did while in the service. But even a child could understand this one. When we reached the bus, I dusted over an inch of snow off the top of my hate. It was a small sacrifice.

Rest in peace. Your contribution to our great country was not forgotten. Your service was not for nothing. Thank you for keeping our country great.

No comments:

Site Meter