By Bill Lee
The last column I wrote about my friend was entitled AN UNLIKELY FRIEND. I met him while visiting in local nursing homes where he was spending his last few weeks of life. It has been said that everyone we meet becomes a part of us, and my departed friend proved this to me.
He lived a long productive life serving his country in the military and after retirement continuing to be active taking care of his family, doing good deeds for his neighbors and serving his ultimate Commander-in-Chief as a loyal church member.
His condition grew precarious in his last days because of multiple health problems, and finally he said goodbye quite literally. A family member had visited him in the hospital and when she departed, she looked at him as he bade farewell to life. His last known action was to gently wave and life as he knew it here, quietly ended.
My mother-in-law who lived beyond the age of 100 used to say that there would not be many at her funeral because she had outlived most of them. Too, those friends who had already arrived Up There, she stated, probably wondered if she went to the “other” place. At my friend’s funeral, the attendance left plenty of room in the church although the service was one those who were not present unfortunately missed. The minister spoke approvingly and at length of the one who lived just across the road from the church. The vocal music was appropriate and professionally done by the two soloists.
Because he was a retired Army veteran, he was accorded a funeral with full, well earned military honors. The local funeral home arranged the impressive service which included an honor guard, a bugler and the arrival of the flag draped coffin at the grave site on a caisson drawn by two well groomed horses harnessed in their finest presentation gear accented with polished brass.
Everything about the well planned funeral was done in a typical military manner. It was obvious to any observer that this ceremony was one that had been practiced to the point of absolute perfection. Every movement was done on command of the Officer in Charge. The six white gloved enlisted men executed his commands with precision and with utmost solemnity from the movement of the coffin from the caisson to the ceremonial removal of the flag. Every ritual movement was carried out with a practiced and exaggerated slow motion.
The flag was then removed from the coffin and precisely folded. The Honor Guard retreated and the Officer in Charge made the flag presentation to the family.
The most poignant moment was the playing of Taps by the uniformed bugler. Just as each movement of the Honor Guard was militarily correct so were his actions. He stood at attention, mechanically moved his instrument to his lips and played the few bars of the traditional music honoring the departed.
There are times when praise is given by cheers which might be measured by intensity. Then there is the cheerless occasion such as was witnessed by the mourners who gathered to pay their last respects for the fallen warrior. It proved to be greater than any cheer or applause; it was the utter overwhelming silence and stillness that prevailed when the music ended.
The thought that many there must have had was the familiar voice that was seemingly heard saying, “Reporting for duty, Sir.”
PO Box 128
Hamer, SC 29547