Wednesday, November 11, 2009

21-Gun Salute

I wrote this more than a decade ago; how serendipitous that I should find it on my desk today...

The silence in the cold air was deafening. A light snow began to fall and the sound of 16 feet marching in time faintly drifted the air. Eight men came over a rise in the road; their movements stiff and formal; their uniforms as dully colored as the day. They took their place several yards away and the silence resumed.

My mind began playing scenes from my grandfather's life; some I only knew of from old photographs and the stories that he told, others I had been there for. But I wasn't here because of him today; I was here to witness the final honor of a man I never knew. Perhaps, somehow, my own grandfather, who had also served his country and yet had not had this honor, perhaps he would see, from wherever her was, that in my heart, I was present here for him, as well as for my new family.

A voice called out an order and broke the silence, almost physically. And then the sharp report of seven guns rang out three times in the frosty air. Eerily, almost as if from a dream, the bugler began to blow Taps. The mournful sound carried on the breeze seemed so very final. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I would not let them fall.

As the closing notes faded away, the men began to move. They came toward us with the same stiff formality as before. Staring straight ahead, they arranged themselves around the grave. Solemnly, they unfolded the flag of our country with exact precise movements, a few of the stern-faced men sniffling in the cold. Then they refolded it, placing 3 shells within it's folds.

They passed the flag with great respect to their sergeant, who turned his staid face to my future mother-in-law. With a deep rich voice he spoke. "On behalf of the President..."

The tears now flowed freely down my cheeks and off my chin, not just for the man I never knew, not just for my grandfather; nor did they fall for my new family who had lost one of their numbers. They fell for all the families who had lost someone and for all those someones.

The men eventually left with deliberate and rigid marching and the silence continued. How to end it? How to step in on another person's thoughts? What words could ever be appropriate? A hug was all I could think to do and even that seemed an intrusion. So I stood there quietly, wiping the tears from my face.

I wrote this in the late winter of 1999 after attending the funeral of my future grandfather-in-law. I only ever showed this to my husband. I asked him if it would be ok to send to his mother. He said not to. I regret my decision to go along with him. His mother would have appreciated this. By the time I knew her well enough to figure that out, the hard drive of the computer it was saved on had died, and now she has. I don't remember ever printing it out, but here it is...

Don't give yourself a reason to regret. Thank a veteran or the family of veteran any time you get the chance. Let them know how much their service means to you. They'll appreciate it, even if it seems like they won't or don't. In the end, it matters...

1 comment:

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