Tag Archive | soldiers

A Change in Landscape: A Tribute To Military Members

ocean view from Ford Island at Sunset, Oahu, Hawaii

Sun beat down upon the decaying pavement as I padded towards the water’s edge. The air was clear and the skies moved about with the changing island breeze. I had walked this way many times before, and today, with music filling my ears of piano and violins, I slipped away from my busy world. My arms found their way in a swinging motion, like snow-skiing across the vast concrete before me. I was out to replace my previous walking time, and my steps became urgent with purpose. But the truth was, I was distracted by a sudden change in landscape. I tried to push the thought of the island’s transformation out of my head, and raced on past the military patrol boats in the harbor and the once vibrant military buildings that now looked all but forgotten.

Out in the distance the clouds rolled in over the mountains and rain showers replenished the earth with much-needed water. Smiling, I marveled at the vibrant rainbow that soon followed. Still, the sun bore down on my shoulders and beads of moisture dripped from my brow. I loved to walk here on this hallowed land that once experienced perhaps the greatest tragedy in American history. The smaller island found within the confines of a larger one was full of secrets and surprises, and it was perhaps this reason I so enjoyed my walks here on Ford Island.

rainbow behind the USS Missouri in Hawaii

USS Missouri

Today this side of the island seemed quieter than usual. The tourists had all but disappeared and families residing nearby were nowhere to be seen. The Oklahoma Memorial stood like a forgotten ship upon land, while the USS Missouri clanked against the dock, reminding itself that it remained as strong as it ever was.

 

USS Arizona Memorial and USS Mercy in Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona and USS Mercy in Pearl Harbor

 

 

Like a long-lost friend, the old banyan tree with its names proudly etched upon it, welcomed me as I made my way up the street past the house with nineteen cats. Its foliage shaded my overheated body, and as much as I wanted to stop, I did not. For not but a few steps away lie a beautiful memorial of white, and its appearance was always changing depending on the day. I looked forward to seeing the USS Arizona each time I walked, and today was no different. Its flag flew strong and vibrant against the island trade winds, reminding me once again of those that had fallen in time of war.

I did not stay long to recall the reason for the memorial, for still I was haunted by the change of landscape found within the confines of the island. Moving past the deserted playground with the sun blurring my eyes, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was upon the site that most troubled me before my walk.

With the sidewalk bending its way through uncut grass, I found myself suddenly upon the main road. Long and straight, hot and silent. I stopped as if at Arlington or Punchbowl to take in the sight before me. Boots. Not just one pair or two, nor twenty or one hundred, but thousands. Each with a name tag, photo, Date of Death and an American Flag. Stopped like a wooden statue, my eyes scoured the main roads in and out of the island. As far as I could see, they were all still there, boots… calling to me to pay attention, to stop and read and remember those that gave all.

rows of military boots lining the roads of Ford Island with tags and pictures of those that have given their lives since 9/11

My phone found its way out of my pocket and I lowered myself to the level of the first boot. Taking a photo, I stopped suddenly, remembering that this was not just another photo-op of history but a memorial to a real individual. A Marine who gave his life in 2004. He was young, like my own son… Catching my breath, I righted myself and watched as cars moved slower than usual down the once img_4732WWII runway. How strange to have a boot of a fallen soldier upon the same soil of fallen WWII airmen.

As I began to walk, my eyes caught each ghost soldier, sailor and airman’s eyes as they followed me down the long stretch of black now radiating heat greater than usual. I zigged and zagged across the street reading names and learning about loved ones who would never forget their lost brother, sister, husband or wife. Replacing flags and righting boots I mourned for those left behind.

And then I saw them. Two boots laced together, a husband and wife. Choked up, my hand could not bear to take a photo. Three boots of MP’s, buddies till the end… Four boots, forever together. I began to run along the road, seeing for the first time the faces of people standing in a long line waiting for something…. Their vacant eyes searching mine, their smiles urging me on. Not a runner, my breath was not labored nor quick, but steady as I passed each individual. They reminded me of my freedoms, my family, everything that was good in my life. My eyes moistened and my brain began to scream at the horrors of war. And then I stopped, crying in the street with lone boots at my feet. I would remember. How could I not? I would remember them all as I should, as we all should…. And why wouldn’t we?

Boots of fallen MPs4 boots strung together

 

 

 

 

 

As I turned towards my car, I stopped and glanced one last time down the two long roads before me. Boots stood at attention as others followed my footsteps, reading, remembering and crying. The boots won’t be here for long, but the memory of them will be here forever.

Boots lining the road as far as one can see

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Military and Funerals

Military and Funerals…

The soldiers stood at attention with their swords lifted as the coffin arrived through the doors of the church. Inside almost every military member that was not working on that day filled the pews of their fallen friend. I sat quietly next to my husband just behind the wife. There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel…mine included. We were young and I had never been to a funeral when I attended this one. The Coast Guardsmen was twenty-four and had walked off a cliff in Alaska while hiking in the fog. It was a tragic loss and all I could think of at the time was…this could be my husband.

The Chaplin spoke from the pulpit while the Honor Guard stood silent watch over the ceremony. Yes, the term is ceremony. Unlike many civilian funerals, a military funeral is shrouded in dignified rituals and ceremonious protocol. I don’t remember giving the ceremony much thought back then. I was upset and remember looking around at my peers wondering if they were thinking what I was thinking. The deceased was a very well liked young man with a great personality. He and his wife were trying to get pregnant and they were excited about the future. She had just found out she had conceived. Every person in that church was thinking about God’s hand in their lives and wondered what could possibly be the reason for this tragedy. When the young man’s flag covered coffin was carried out past us, we followed brokenhearted and wondering about our own mortality and that of our active duty military.

It has been many years since then and I have witnessed a handful of funerals where our military have been present. It is always the same now, now that I am aware of my surroundings and the numbness of death. The parking lot is scattered with men and women in their best dress uniforms, quietly talking and waiting to enter the church. They wait all together while the family and friends take their place inside. Then they silently enter in mass. Every civilian is aware of their presence as they watch the group remove their covers and sit rigidly shoulder to shoulder in the back of the service. They each enter the condolence line and whisper words of comfort to the family, whether they had met before or not. Such was the case of my mother-in-law’s funeral. My husband and I sat quietly in the front pew not aware of the large presence of Coast Guardsmen waiting outside to enter. What it was that made us all turn, because they did enter quietly, I will never know. But we turned and my husband’s heart was comforted knowing that his men felt the desire to provide him support in his time of need. Again they showed up on the sad passing of a wife who had taken her own life. The chapel filled to the brim and each member held their friend and his children, supporting them in the best way they knew how.

Today I witnessed the highest form of military burial, the one held in Arlington at the National Cemetery. As my husband and I exited our car, there in the parking lot stood the “uniforms” quietly waiting. Because the memorial service was held on Fort Meyers,it was clear that most everyone standing outside The Old Post Church would be wearing uniforms. On the direction of the burial director, the servicemen and women were asked to enter the church. The last to enter was the family taking their seats in the front row. Two Chaplains took their place on the pulpits and were prepared to eulogize the fallen member as the organ played the Service Member Hymn. Unlike my first funeral, I was very aware of those around me and the ceremonial protocol in place. No one sat with the Commandant of the Coast Guard except his Executive Assistant, and behind him sat the Admirals. The Captains and non-commissioned officers all sat on the opposite side of the aisle and the civilians filled in behind the military. It was surprisingly the opposite of what I had come to know.

Behind me I heard the clicks of shoes and knew that the funeral procession had begun as the Honor Guard silently marched in carrying the American flag and the cremated remains of the fallen service member. We all stood silently watching as they placed both on a small table bearing the members picture. I felt a tear slid down my cheek as I watched his family dab their eyes. The chaplains spoke eloquently about his service to our country and his new home in Heaven. The organ began to play a soft hymn as the sound of orders being issued were heard from outside the church doors. The clicking shoes of the Honor Guard again filled the old church as they retrieved the fallen member. We followed quietly out the door.

Outside the caisson (horses and coffin) stood waiting for the ceremonial ride to the service member’s final resting place. The Honor Guard stood in formation just in front of the caisson ready to lead them on a mile and a half or more trip down to the internment wall. I was startled to see so many Coast Guardsmen when I came out of the church. There were four members flanking the caisson and at least thirty standing in ranks. My husband found his place behind the two highest Admirals while I found my car to follow in the procession.

What I experienced next was surreal. I doubt that many people write about their experiences with funerals in Arlington, and perhaps that is why I felt I should share with you now…but the procession was like the one we all see on TV. The Honor Guard marched for close to two miles as the caisson clapped against the pavement. Those visiting the cemetery stood silently as the caisson passed, some with their hands over their hearts, others at attention. The tombstones in their uniformed rows, white against the plush green of grass and trees, sat in endless formation. As I drove, I read the name plates of active service members and their spouses,finding that the women’s stones only read “His wife.” The procession wound it’s way from the top of the cemetery down to the base,and to my surprise,we were met by another set of Honor Guard. They stood at attention near the wall of internment, while the marching Honor Guard took their place in the field behind the bugler. To their right seven riflemen stood at attention like toy soldiers preparing for battle. We followed the walking procession thru the Honor Guard and to the Internment Ceremonial stage. There the highest ranking Admirals and Chaplains spoke. One brought it all home when he said, “You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes…”(James 4:14) Then the guns were raised and the twenty-one gun salute shook the grounds and those of us standing. The clicks sounded against the walls as the Honor Guard moved to fold the unfurled flag. They popped it’s sides and corners and tucked our American Pride into itself until it was ready to be presented to the family.The lead Guard sharply turned and presented Old Glory to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, who saluted the flag then ceremoniously placed his hands above and below the flag, taking possession of it from the Guardsman. Turning with pride and the call to duty, the Commandant turned towards the family. Quietly he knelt down in front of the spouse and brought tears to everyone’s eyes when he said, ” Please accept this on behalf of the President, the Coast Guard and a grateful nation. He then shook the family member’s hands, followed by the Admirals, Chaplains and each member of the Honor Guard standing in ranks near the stage. I was startled by the words of encouragement and sincere condolences these complete strangers bestowed on the grieving family. Not a single Guardsman said the same thing to the three family members. It was incredibly touching and all I could think of was how special the moment had been.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we were led to the internment wall where a brass box bearing the fallen guardsmen’s name was place into the wall in silence. The Chaplain spoke again, the family played a seventies song, “Spirit in the Sky”…and then it was done, finished, over… we quietly said our own condolences and departed the cemetery.

I imagine that this will not be my last military funeral or one where our military will be present…But one thing is for certain, our active military understand the importance of honoring our loved ones probably more than most…for it is they that risk their lives to protect the very loved ones for which they honor.imageimageimage