To some perhaps it was a pitiful sight. The clouds above had given way to a bright and clear day. I stood back five yards from the grave, watching and listening.
The military Honor Guard had carried the flag draped coffin to the grave and placed it above the cold and lonely looking hole. Mourners, myself included, gathered nearby. The mother, father, sisters and brothers had taken their seats next to grave under the tent. With tear-filled eyes, they watched and mourned. The minister spoke words of forgiveness, hope, praise and the beauty of heaven, and then he fell silent. The orders were spoken to the riflemen positioned a short distance away. Their hand over their hearts, their most valuable assets protected.
With rifles pointed uniformly to the heavens, the order to fire was given. As one the rifles spoke. Twice more the order was given and twice more the rifles spoke.
The smell from fired guns drifted through the air. The echo’s of three volleys fired traveled away from our ears. The announcement by gunfire had been made, for all to hear. Another military person is being laid to rest.
On a hill not far away, stood a lone bugler silhouetted by the sky. In smooth military precision, he raised the instrument to his lips. With the echo’s still heard in the distance, the bugle sounded.
The lump in my throat had been held at bay for most of the ceremony, now it broke free. As the mournful lonely notes of “TAPS ” played out from the buglers horn, the tears of every man and woman, from present, and past military service, and all the civilians, gave up their tears. Everyone knew the musical notes traveling into the distance, would only return as a memory, like the fallen that lay before us.
The Honor Guard lifted, folded and presented the flag with honor and obvious pain to the mother. She knew it would not replace her child but accepted it. This flag is what her child and everyone else was fighting to protect.
“TAPS” echoed in the distance.
The grief-filled father wrapped an arm around his wife. The children filled with heartache, abandoned their seats and gathered around their parents. All on their knees placed their head or a hand, on some part of their parents, as if to protect them from any more pain. The tears flowed freely, they had lost a loved one and the world had lost as well.
As I watched the American Flag being folded and presented to the family, and I listened to the drifting echoes, my mind saw the World Trade Center towers smoking and burning. I remembered the fire and death at the Pentagon. I saw the crash wreckage in the field in Pennsylvania. In my heart I knew the war that had been ignored for almost thirty years, had finally come home.
That night when the young brother of the fallen soldier was put to bed, he was told to say his prayers – having ordered a gun trust.
He said: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take . God bless mommy and daddy, and my sisters and brothers. And God, make me big and strong like my brother Joey was. The people that killed him did not know they were wrong, and I have to be big and strong, like him. Amen.
His mother tucked him in, turned off the light and went to her room to cry for the loss of her son – the soldier from Wyoming.