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The Last Goodbye for a WWII veteran.

Discussion in 'Open Discussion (Work-safe)' started by HINYG8, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. HINYG8

    HINYG8 You never come back from Copperhead Road

    Any of you that have bounced around the OSU boards for awhile and recognize my handle likely know I am an OZoner, but also love this board and several other OSU sites. I have spent some time thinking about a recent family event and decided it was time to write about it. I sat down earlier today and wrote a post over on the OZone and wanted to share it here too. I hope it prompts all who read it to take a moment and think about our country as a union and recognize it is much more than the political chess board the media is trying so hard to turn into a wedge and divide us. We are more than soundbites of hate and false narratives. We are truly the greatest nation on earth. Never, ever let that be forgotten. And always honor those that built it and keep it free.

    Early last week I had the incredible honor of laying a WWII veteran and true American warrior to rest in Arlington National.

    We lost my father in law some 6 years ago, but when he first passed the family was not ready for his final internment in our nations' Valhalla. We all agreed that when we made the trip to lay him to rest among those hills and white tombstones it should be a celebration, not a mournful, sad day. We wanted to honor and celebrate him..and last week we did.

    He was a pilot and 28 year Air Force veteran. He flew bombers in the pacific during WWII. Even though he was the pilot, any time he would talk about combat he would speak about how great and brave his crew was, making them the central characters in his narratives. But, as you listened, you knew who was really leading the charge and keeping the men together and brave. He was a remarkable man that loved this country and, indeed, signed up to die for it if necessary to protect it.

    Over the years he lost most of his family, with just my wife, our son, and his widow still close. So I was the one to carry the urn with his remains on our journey to D.C. What a feeling to make the journey carrying this man from Missouri to D.C. and taking a pilot on his final flight.

    As the MIL needs wheelchair assistance she and my wife were first to board the flight. This meant we had the first row on our Southwest flight. I mention this because the flight was great and only half full. This meant we spent a lot of time talking with the steward. He was a class act and a credit to Southwest. Along the way he shared he served in the army. So we let him know why we were making this trip. His eyes watered a bit and he let us know that during his service he had the great privilege of being in the color guard and firing his weapon to honor departed soldiers.

    As we land he gets on the PA and does the 'Welcome to Washington D.C. If this is your final destination then thank you for flying with us and welcome home or enjoy your visit. If you are connecting from here to another destination then..yadda yadda yadda announcements.

    He then says: I also want to let you know you have all had the great privilege of flying with a military family today who are going to Arlington tomorrow to lay a World War Two veteran to rest. Being in the military is a full time job and commitment for our soldiers, and also for their families and I thank them for my freedom and their sacrifices.

    Standing ovation.

    First tears of the trip.

    The mother in law stays seated as she needs wheelchair assistance. So everyone deplaning stopped to say thank you or to share their condolences. We are still a great and united people when it comes to events that really truly matter. God bless America.

    I've been to other military burials. If you haven' should go to one even if you don't know the deceased and honor them. The respect paid is a tremendous and a worthy tribute to the individual and our freedom. Pride in county will be fully restored, and if your USA meter is already pegged: you will find a new level of appreciation for the red, white, and blue you didn't know was there. It's just an amazing experience. I think all communities should share in such a moment to remind us we might not agree on trivialities and politics, but we are still united as Americans and so fortunate to be free.

    Like I said, I've been blessed (and deeply saddened) to have been to other military services, but it's different at Arlington.

    Of course the grounds themselves will shake you and have you appreciating generations of sacrifice. You can't help but realize there are true superheroes and many of them are memorialized in Arlington. We were all holding up well and smiling a lot, celebrating our guy as we said he deserved and would have wanted. We joked with the chaplain, shared a memory or two and our hearts were light and our smiles were big.

    Then the events started. Wow, I said I've been to military services before, but this is a whole different deal.

    They transferred him to a caisson drawn by seven horses. The wagon was flanked by the color guard, the rifle squad, the band, and the honor guard. Oh man, tears #2. Unbelievable reverence and power.

    Then the airmen all moved into their parade positions. The drummer started a lonely cadence and my son and I joined the procession, walking just behind all the airmen. My wife followed, driving her mother at the end (it was bitter cold and a long distance and they let us know it would be best to bring the MIL via car).

    What a walk.

    We passed rows and rows of our fallen. We could see the Tomb of the Unknown behind us, and then we came to a stop in the shadow of the Pentagon. A short distance away the Air Force monument within Arlington emerged from the trees, the three spires taking their flight toward heaven.

    What looked to be a chinook took a low flight line in the near horizon. Coincidental, but perfect to see a military flight in that moment when the parade came to a halt.

    We did fairly well during the chaplain's words. He chose a beautiful verse about flying to the heavens, and spoke about the Colonel's service, love of country, friends, family, and life. Perfect.

    I held up well for the rifle volley..but then taps. Oh man, taps. I can't hear it in ordinary circumstance with the air getting a bit dusty. But I can't express the honor, care, respect and attention given to the flag as they folded it and got it ready to present. Then the officer in charge brings it forward, takes a knee and drops that phrase:

    On behalf of a grateful nation.

    He kept talking, but we were all just trying not to sob.

    We help up fairly well though. It was rough for my wife as she was overcome. But my son was impressively solid, and I held it together. Some tears but mostly pride. We'd both have our moment though as the day was not done for either of us.

    The guard departed, the horses pulling the wagon away in a silence only broken by the hoof falls of the horses and that lonely drum marking their cadence.

    Then the chaplain took me aside and asked if we had a bag we were checking on our flight home. I said we did. Good, he said, The TSA doesn't like these. But I think you will. He raises his hands that are full of something I can't see and looks to me to put my hands out so he can transfer whatever he was holding to me.

    Then the brass from the final volley tumbled into my hands. I now know this is typical, but was previously unaware. That was it for me. I broke. I'm crying as I type this. The sound they made as the tumbled and plinked into my hands... I'll never forget it.

    We then stood at his resting site and looked at the Pentagon so close. The Tomb of the Unknown soldier visible in the distance and the spires of the air force monument and knew this was home for our pilot. We knew this was perfect. And we knew how damn proud and lucky we are to be American.

    My MIL was holding the flag in her lap. We retreated to the car. As my wife was transferring her to the car she held the flag up from her lap and said please hold this so it wouldn't be dropped. I gasped because my son was right there and I knew holding that flag was going to be a thing. My wife was preoccupied with the transfer and didn't initially grasp the weight of that request to our son. I couldn't get my hands up quick enough to take it. Instead my son put his hands out and the flag settled there.

    I saw him instantly turn away from us and his shoulders hitch. This was now his moment to really take on the weight if what we had just done and what this place was. It took awhile but I stood with him, arm around his shoulder and we just looked around while he let it all out. It wasn't sad, it was the celebration we wanted to give our war hero...but it was so immense there aren't words..and while there are tears..they are not sad. They are pride and joy. I've not seen him really cry, like bawl, since he was little. And I don't think he had ever seen his parents really cry. Maybe when my dad died (also Air Force)... but there was no need or effort to try and hide it or limit it. There was no shame or sorrow...just awe.

    What a glorious day and what a wonderful nation we are part of.

    Now I am only a few weeks away from his graduation from Ohio State. I think 2019 is going to give me two treasured and remarkable memories..and they come just weeks apart from the other. We mourned the loss of our favorite pilot years ago, so last week we celebrated our nation. And in a few weeks I will get to celebrate our family as my son becomes a fellow alum.

    I stress too much, worry about work and crap that consumes me but really shouldn't. Life is good and I should let myself enjoy it more. I don't relax enough and don't look around and smile enough. As Mellencamp said: life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone. Some days it certainly feels that way.

    But you now what? Some absolutely does not feel that way. Some days I realize how fortunate we all are to be here, even when times really are hard...we couldn't be part of a better nation. There are struggles and there is a lot of bad in the world. That is real, and life isn't always easy...but our freedoms are ever present. When it all starts to be taken for granted and the days might feel heavier and harder than they probably really are: remember your country and your family and celebrate both.

    Thank you for your service Jim. It was an honor to know you and to carry you home. On behalf of a grateful nation and at least one family, your family, well reminded of what is really important in our days here on earth: God bless, god speed and off you go into the wild blue yonder.

    colobuck79, BB73, TS10HTW and 12 others like this.

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