June 20, 2011

Thanks of a Grateful Nation

I had the honor of attending my Uncle Dick's funeral on Friday. Despite living in the DC area for over 20 years, I've never had the opportunity to attend a full military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

I had no idea what to expect but I never expected the experience I had.

We arrived and our family was sequestered in a wood-paneled room. The minister arrived followed shortly by the cemetery representative who walked us through what would happen. Then, a short time later, we were asked to get in our cars and follow the representative. We drove a quarter mile to a circular drive atop a grassy hill. In front of us stood a band, an honor guard and a dozen other soldiers who I don't know enough about these things to classify. There were at least fifty soldiers in full dress. And a horse-drawn caisson carrying my uncle and aunt's remains, covered in an American flag. My first thought - is this all for us?

We were asked if we wanted to walk behind the caisson to the burial site. My mom, dad, Beth and I accepted while the rest of the family including Mia and Owen, followed along in the cars. We walked - at a fast clip - about a mile, through the maze of Arlington. Nearby soldiers stopped and saluted, vistors to the cemetery stood solemnly. We walked, trying our best to keep up with the three horses and soldiers marching ahead of us.

The grave-side ceremony itself took far less time than the actual walk. Maybe ten minutes start to finish. A twenty-one gun salute. Taps. The folding and presentation of the flag to my mother. A few words from the minister.

It was a privilege to be a part of.

I'm always proud to be an American but there are a handful of incidents that have distilled that pride into something almost tangible. This was one of those times. The honor and time and appreciation that goes into honoring our dead, our fallen heroes, is remarkable and it says something about both our people and our government. Here were all these people - these uniformed kids - who, day after day, commemorate the dead and see that their families have some degree of closure, that their fallen brothers are honored.

While I miss and will always miss my Uncle Dick, I'm proud that he served the country and that his dedication and heroism was so wonderfully honored. It's the least we can do to those that helped ensure our continued freedom. And it's a humbling thing to observe.

Posted by Chris at June 20, 2011 7:14 AM

I'm sorry for your loss. Your stories of your uncle were alway touching.

Posted by: daisy at June 20, 2011 8:27 AM

My sympathies on your loss. I'm glad we do the things we do to honor men like him.

Posted by: Julee at June 20, 2011 9:17 AM

I'm so sorry about your uncle. My son has participated in many of those services locally (although never at Arlington). They are impressive.

Posted by: ann adams at June 20, 2011 10:18 AM

That's wonderful, Chris. Thanks for sharing it.

Posted by: Brad at June 20, 2011 10:31 AM

Whether it be a military funeral, a ramp ceremony (when a soldier is killed, there is a ceremony as he is loaded/unloaded from the transport aircraft) or a procession up the interstate...

Nothing compares to rendering honors to a fallen soldier. Whether he/she was killed in combat or died peacefully years after service...These men & women are heroes through & through.

I am glad you could render honors to your Uncle. We also thank him for his service.

Posted by: Holly Reynolds at June 20, 2011 10:54 AM

First and foremost, I am sorry for your loss.

I know what you mean about the ceremony. We lost my brother in law a couple of months ago and he served in the Navy for 17 years. He was buried on the rainiest, muddiest day I had ever seen in Illinois and those servicemen and women in the honor guard stood in the mud and the muck and gave him a full military burial. It was awe-inspiring and the only thing about the entire thing that made sense.

Posted by: Laura at June 20, 2011 11:25 AM

I'm sorry for you and your family's loss. I, too, witnessed a military burial at Arlington - Nov. 1, 2010. My father. I still get chills with the memory. They fought hard for what we have, and it was a privilege to see them (him) honored for everything he gave.

I know you like music ~ take a 'walk' through Trace Adkins' "Arlington" sometime. It is very poignant and an awesome tribute to soldiers and sailors.

Gone But Not Forgotten.

Posted by: 3jaysmom at June 20, 2011 11:27 AM

I'm sorry for your loss, Chris. Taps is probably one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

Posted by: Holly at June 20, 2011 11:47 AM

a service at arlington... is one of the most patriotic things a person can attend....it never fails to make me proud to be an american and thankful for the service of so many....
our thanks to uncle dick..and our thoughts are with you and yours....


Posted by: suicide_blond at June 20, 2011 2:10 PM

I am sorry for your loss.
I got to experience the service for my grandfather there in 2004. The experience, though sad, filled me with pride for the time they took to honor my grandparents (my grandmother has died in 2000). They were cremated but still had a small caisson. The only blip was when I went back a year later and my grandmother's death year was wrong on the tombstone, but they fixed it.

Posted by: kali at June 20, 2011 3:21 PM

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I got goosebumps reading your post - as I get goosebumps every time Taps is played.

For all the times the routines and traditions of the military can be a headache (we're a military family), there are times when the rituals are amazingly moving and awesome to be a part of.

Posted by: Sarah at June 20, 2011 9:18 PM

I am sorry to hear of your uncle's passing, that being said thank you for sharing such an awesome story, it made me proud to be an American, what a beautiful send off.

Posted by: Shannon at June 20, 2011 10:05 PM

My thoughts go out to you and your family. It is indeed an honorable ceremony there at Arlington. I was there for my great-uncle Ted's ceremony. He was a veteran of 3 wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam) and served active duty for 25 years and in reserves/as a recruiter for 30 more. It was a very memorable event - diginified and thought-provoking.

Posted by: Sue R at June 21, 2011 10:20 AM

I have never seen a military funeral in full. I've seen glimpses of them at Arlington. Arlington moves me every time that I visit.

As usual, Chris you outdid yourself describing what you felt. My sympathies to your family.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at June 21, 2011 5:52 PM

Sometimes, even the thought of a ceremony there at Arlington can make me a bit misty-eyed. Your description of your uncle's funeral may have caused a blink or two.

...All is well
Safely rest
God is nigh

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