Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The final farewell - American Veteran

Warning : this is NOT going to be a funny post. It's serious, heartfelt and humbling.
And it is long. There is nothing about what I saw, felt and did that a short post could do justice to.

First, I love my job. An intricate emotional level was recently added which gave my position a surprising depth. What happened yesterday made this more than a job.

I have to be vague, but I can share the sentiment.

What is sadder than death?

How about;
Death without anyone to care for your passing. No one to attend your funeral, no one to shed a tear and say, "You'll be missed."

What makes this worse?

The deceased was a military man. He valiantly served our country in WWII and he died with no one to mark his passing.

Tragically, that happens more than you may realize. More than I realized. However, I was able to make a small difference. For one moment. For one man or, at least, his soul.

Last week, I was given the task of arranging a military funeral for this war vetern. The decision of what would happen would be mine. I'd never done such a thing before and was a little nervous. The lady who worked there was exceptional and helped make the process smooth. I had to make a few decisions but she took care of the rest. I had no idea what constituted "the rest", but I figured we would find out.

Most of the honor guards are volunteer retired military vets and there were two choices based on their avalibility, to have the honor guard and (if volunteers avaliable) a gun salute.

If I don't use the right words, forgive me. I'm was a tad overwhelmed.

I chose the the gun salute to go with the honor guard and I said that we would provide the prayer service.

Me saying prayers? I have NEVER done such I thing. What was I thinking?!!

Yesterday, I , my boss and my co-worker went to the Military Cemetary.
Prior to leaving, I had asked my boss what we were going to say for our part in the service.
Turns out no one really thought conciously about it. Seems none of us had ever done such a thing before.

I'm not sure what made me do it, that mad dash of "grab and go", but I snagged my Bible before I left for work.
A frantic call to my parish priest from the office garnered a dictated prayer that he would've said himself for a deceased military vet started things off. My boss got that one, my co-worker suggested Psalm 23 and I found by flipping pages ,the Psalm 116. It touched me, spoke to me ... and in that moment, I knew. We were ready. I was ready.

The sun gave us unseasonable warmth and a blue sky greeted us as we got out of our cars.

The chapel had military personnel flanking the doors, which they opened upon our arrival. Flags of all our military branches lined one side of the room. In front was a rather large picture window which encompassed the majority of the wall. It faced a field of grass still green and lush. We could see a cement walkway in the form of a "T" situated in the middle of our outside view.

The atmosphere inside seemed to touch us with a respectful and sombre air. You had a sense that the chapel seemed filled with pride in the vets it has honored in the past. Patriotism doesn't die with death.

The sound of our voices seemed out of place. None of us felt like talking.

When the service started, beautiful words were voiced - full of respect and gratitude for the years this man gave to our country and its freedom. In front of us, through the huge window, we watched men in full uniform march in formation heading for that cement "T" we had noticed. They had the rifles for the salute. Have you ever seen this done? It reaches the American Patriot inside us all when this honor is experienced first hand. Watching it on TV buffers us from the emotion and we miss out because of it. Seeing the flare of orange as the guns discharge makes an impact on your senses.

Then it came to our turn. My boss was quite eloquent and heartfelt. She had gotten to know the man and thought he'd been a sweatheart. Hers was the personal touch that this man deserved. My friend read her choice, Psalm 23. Then came mine. I'd only read it once in my mind and now I was about to stand up and voice this outloud. Would it reach out and touch more than just me?

Psalm 116
Thankgiving to God Who Saves From Death

I love the Lord, who listened
to my voice in supplication,
Who turned an ear to me
on the day I called.

I was caught by the cords of death,
the snares of Sheol had seized me;
I felt agony and dread.
Then I called on the name of the Lord,
'O Lord, save my life!"

Gracious is the Lord and just;
yes, our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
I was helpless, but God saved me.
Return, my soul, to your rest;
the Lord has been good to you.
For my soul has been freed from
my eyes from tears, my feet from
I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

My boss turned to me once I sat back down, leaned over and whispered. " Thank you" in a hushed and choked voice. I wasn't alone in my feelings about Psalm 116.

The honor guard then proceeded to open the side doors to the outside air. Within moments came the haunting and emotional tribute of TAPS. The crisp and clear notes of two bugles, one slightly delayed that seemed to resemble an echo of Patriots past carried on the gentle breeze as it swirled in from the open doors until the last notes drifted away.

Goose bumps raised on my arms and tears formed in my eyes. A fitting tribute to a man that never should have been forgotten. Never should have died so alone after what he gave for all of us so long ago.

At that moment, not only was I proud to do this for a fellow American, but felt immensely blessed to have a job that could provide this human touch, this act of kindness.

How'd I get so damned lucky?

The presentation of the flag is a study in respect, honor and pride. The presentation of the bullet casings was unexpected and appreciated.

Yesterday had a big impact on me.
Can you see why I couldn't do a short post about this?
Why I had to post this?

I don't want to forget.


Brandy said...

Oh Michele, you honored that man with the simple words of the Psalm. It brought tears to my eyes as I pictured it in my mind. Our veterans are a treasure that should never be forgotten. No one should be forgotten. You did a wonderful thing. I am so proud of you for making his death a respectful and memorable tribute to a man that deserved so much. Thank you.

Beth said...

A very special post. Ps 116 was perfect. Thank you so much for being there for all of us to say thank you!

And thank you for sharing this so we never forget.

Michele said...

Thank you for the kind words, Brandy and

And thanks too for reading the Whole thing. I know it is a lot.


Bailey Stewart said...

I left a comment on the myspace blog the other day about this but it says no comments. Did you get it?

Bailey Stewart said...

Guess not. Sheesh, now I have to remember what I said.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Oh, Michele, what a truly beautiful, heartfelt post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.