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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our cousin's military funeral

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He signed up for the Marines when he graduated high school in 1973.




He served a few years. No one in the family knows what he did, he couldn't talk about it. He was a Marine on undisclosed missions in the Pacific.


Now, just before his 54th birthday, Don's cousin is gone, from congestive heart failure. What secrets were better left unsaid, that didn't take him to his grave, but he took them there?


Good night, David. Time to rest.


This was my first military funeral, though I've seen them on TV and in movies.

I was feeling sheepish about my camera until one of David's sisters met me going inside with "Thank you, none of us thought to bring one. I want the kids to have something to remember this by." From that point on, I felt complete freedom, with a purpose. If you know me, you know my protests against militarism. But it was time to set that aside and do something for the family.

Arriving at the cemetery we were greeted by a row of seven Marines holding rifles by their sides, poised in readiness for the 21-gun salute to come. I snapped several shots of their fixed faces before I went inside the mausoleum for the ceremony. Like the guards at Buckingham Palace, they were stoic and unmoving, barely breathing it seemed, in their stillness.

Inside, as the other three Marines fulfilled their ceremonial charge - one playing "Taps" on his horn outside the door, the other two marching up the aisle, then folding the flag in meditative precision - I felt calmed. When the rifles rang their 21 shots outside - each Marine firing three times in sync - and David's daughter burst into a sudden wail, I realized this is why we offer ceremony, why we turn to it in times of great sorrow and joy. In the silent, slow folding of the flag, how carefully they caressed it with their white gloves, how tightly they held it between them in their task of transformation. And I saw, as if for the first time, how beautiful our flag is. In those moments I didn't see borders, or patriotism, or war. I saw stunning, vivid colors in a bold design unlike any other flag in the world, and it had become a blanket covering a soldier at rest. A thing of comfort. And when the Marine handed David's widow the red white & blue fabric triangle I felt its power. Ah - the American flag, an instrument of healing!

I remember how I felt at age 7, perched on the floor in front of our black and white TV, watching Caroline Kennedy - one year younger than I - holding the hand of her mother dressed in black, in a veil. They walked up and touched her daddy's flag-covered casket in the vast Capitol rotunda - first her mother's black-gloved hand, followed quickly by her own small white-gloved hand - this girl with hair and white anklet socks like mine. Then her mother's kiss on the flag. They were us. We were being healed by ceremony.

If you're interested, you can view David's military honors in this YouTube slideshow.


51 comments:

*jean* said...

ruth, your photo tribute really touched my heart...i don't think there is anything that brings home the sacrifice and commitment of our service people in the armed forces more than seeing the flag presented to a grieving loved one...thank you for reminding us that we (as a nation) should not squander this sacrifice...but honor it and hold it dear...and keep our promises to those who serve...

and send them away only as a complete and utter last resort...

Gwen Buchanan said...

Ruth, please accept my deepest sympathy.

Literary Nut said...

Just wanted to pass along my thoughts and sympathy for your family.

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

You write better even than you photograph: The two together made me feel as if I had been there. I got chills when you described the flag ceremony, and tears formed in my eyes.

Thank you for this. I'm not sure why, but thank you.

Virginia

Sally said...

Ruth, I occasionally check your postings and am glad I did today. Your pictures and the video are a wonderful tribute to David's life and it will be treasured by his family. I am reminded of the fond memories from all of the fun times we had growing up and visiting our cousins. Thank you - Sally

P.S. you are a fabulous photographer and writer, amoungst your other many talents!

mystic rose said...

May he rest in peace. And my prayers for his family and yours.

Self-Proclaimed Editor said...

What a beautiful description of the flag. Thank you for that, M

ds said...

"...but a thought/Of that late death took all my heart for speech." (Yeats) My deepest sympathy to your cousin's family and to yours.
d

Susan said...

Ruth, once again you knew just the right things to say. It brought tears to my eyes. If any of the family reads this, I know it will bring comfort. May he rest in peace.

Dakota Bear said...

Ny condolences to your family.

What a wonderful tribute to our flag and apt description of a military funeral.

Babs (Beetle) said...

Wonderful, heart touching post. My condolences to the family.

Violet said...

What a lovely tribute. My condolences to you and Don and his family.

The rituals and ceremony of a military funeral are expecially poingnant, and comforting.

Be one with the Fro said...

Hi Ruth.

I'm sorry to hear about your cousins death! Your photo tribute was amazing! Your family will definitely appreciate that.

Anet said...

Sorry to hear of your family's loss. The tribute is just lovely.

Anonymous said...

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CottageGirl said...

I'm writing this as tears slide down my cheeks. What a lovely tribute to your cousin.

Your words and your pictures have touched my heart.

You have my sympathies, Ruth.

God bless all who have served our country.

MAXIMUS said...

My deepest condolences. May God bless you and your family.

rauf said...

very graceful Ruth, i don't intend to be funny and rude, but your cousin David waould have loved his funeral.

oh i hate anonymous comments Ruth,

@Anonymous ! you may have a point but this is a wrong forum to discuss it and it is not relevant to this post.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I am so sorry.
There is nothing sadder than hearing Taps played.
Thinking of you.

♥ Kathy said...

Military funerals are very touching. Just about my entire family is/was military. I am so sorry for your loss.

Raevyn said...

An amazing post, and as several others have said, a wonderful tribute. As an Army brat, one would think that I would have attended my share of them, however I've been lucky enough not to have lost many people people that I love who were current or former military.
It is a wonderful gift for the other family members, who, speaking from experience, may have little or no real recollection of the service or the people there.
Good thoughts for you and your family as you grieve.

carl h. sr. said...

Wow,I think I was holding my breath during the whole video tribute.
Very moving Ruth.
Peace be with you,
Carl

kanmuri said...

You managed to render the ceremony is a beautiful and touching way.

Please accept my sympathy for the family.

Lluvia said...

One of my younger brothers and a cousin served in the Corps. My father retired from the Navy but continues to work for them. Two grandfathers served, one Army, and the other Army Air. An uncle in the Navy. My daughter plans to join the Air Force (she could have a full paid ride to college). My ex served in the first Desert Storm. Before 9/11, before I learned about how few rights women and people in general have in many countries, before I studied the history of democracy, I did not appreciate the need for our military. Now when I see people in uniform and have the opportunity, I tell them "Thank you for serving." They appreciate it every time. Please tell your family that I thank him for serving.

photowannabe said...

Ruth, I'm so sorry for the loss your family has suffered. This is a tender tribute and I appreciated reading it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, all of you, for your good words. I hope you will understand if I do not respond to each of you individually this time.

I had only met David a few times, the last was at his mother's funeral many years ago. Don has not seen his cousin David since then either. We have spent more time with David's sisters in recent years. It is for them, and his wife and children that my heart is heavy. Thank you so much for your condolences, I know his family would be touched.

While this experience was touching to me and seemed to be a great comfort to David's family, I am still incredibly conflicted about the military. Because of that, I've decided to let this post be what it is without further discussing it in these comment boxes. I appreciate each of your comments very much.

I wish you peace and joy. Be strong and of good courage. In a world where disappointment, conflict and misery meet us, I hope each of you will, as Gandhi taught us, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

With love,
Ruth

Helena said...

Interesting post. I'm very sorry for your loss.

Loring Wirbel said...

My high-school friend Jon, that was blown up by the Taliban? His was a full military funeral, even though he was a civilian working for a covert private contractor. It was a very eerie experience, just before Christmas 2006, I took a few pics but it all felt odd. Jon was on the front lines in Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, thought he was doing the right thing.

Oliag said...

A beautiful tribute Ruth...and I don't think you need to say more...

Delphine said...

Your post is incredibly moving Ruth,it is difficult to add anything more to the other comments they have said it all except that I wish to add my condolences to his famly.

Bob Johnson said...

Beautiful tribute Ruth, great slide show. I get goosebumps whenever I hear taps, I have played Taps before on the trumpet at special occasions and funerals.

California Girl said...

My father had a wonderful military funeral two years ago. He was a Lt. Col. USAF, WWII. He was 97 but entitled to full military honors and my brother and I were very grateful because it was just what Dad wanted. It's a touching ceremony, very emotional. The full dress guard is wonderful to watch. We took photos as well but they were with a small camera and did not turn out as beautifully as yours.

Dad liked to play the harmonica when he put us to bed. When my boys were little, he'd play it for them too. He often played "Taps". Such a mournful tune.

shicat said...

To you and yours,I extend my deepest sympathy. Tradition and rituals can help us through the dark days after we lose someone we love. Grief is a long and solitary process.It becomes a part of you, a condition you learn to live with. The photos will be a great comfort.

Ruth, my Forsythia are blooming. I brought them inside last week.

shoreacres said...

Ruth,

I appreciate so much your willingness to share such personal and poignant moments. Each of these deaths has been a personal grief and a sorrow to a family. It's important for them to be a grief and a sorrow for our nation, too.

Peter said...

Your text is so completely in line with what I would expect from you! If I had been a US citizen, I think I would have the same feelings (including in your comments), but not knowing as well as you how to express them! The text, the photos, the video, the music...! Really touching and dignified at the same time! (I don't have tears in my eyes often and easily, but now it happened.)

Leena said...

My consolations to the family!
My thanks to you for this post and to Rauf for his words, because I was a little confused because of that anonymous`s post.

Thank you Ruth also for your comment on my Aminus site.
I had very different models during my studying weekend :)

Amy said...

Ruth, my condolences for the family's loss. Your slide show is a beautiful tribute -- thank you for sharing those sacred moments. This is probably a stupid question: when it's a military funeral with a 21-gun salute and a myriad of dressed Marines, are the Marines present personal friends of the deceased or are they "dispatched" for such ceremonies? I don't mean to offend anyone with such a question -- I truly have no idea and I've always wondered! Much love, Amy

Ruth said...

Amy, I'm quite certain David did not know the Marines who participated, based purely on their age. I was thinking about your question too, wondering how they are chosen for these events.

rauf said...

Once again Ruth, i don't intend to be rude and insensitive, i think there should be a few batches of marines who are trained for such events and they go about performing the same rituals at different funerals.

It is good for the family that you recorded the entire even Ruth.

Ruth said...

No no, rauf, not rude or insensitive at all. Thank you.

nathalie in avignon said...

Dear Ruth, thanks for this beautiful post. There's so much in there. And like many others it is so YOU in its sensitivity and thoughtfulness and honesty. You express your initial reservations but also a variety of feelings in a beautiful way. You're a wonderful soul Ruth.

(The relation Americans have to their flag is a most amazing one, I can't think of another country which relates to its flag in the same way.)

Anonymous said...

The Marines that presented at your cousins funeral are part of a special group. Yes, they train for the funeral ceremony. The Marines consider it a great honor to pay their respects to the "fallen soldier" and their family.

No, they don't need to know the soldier personally, or the family because when they become a Marine, they are all family.

You are very fortunate to have had a real person playing TAPS. Many military funerals now have gone to using a recording. Maybe because you are in a larger city?

My respects to your family.

Gwei Mui said...

Hey Ruth,
Such a beautiful if sad piece. As a Brit, I am rather envious of the relationship you have with your flag. I wish that more respect was shown to the Union Jack and those who have fought, died and even survived in the service of their country and these days cross-country, cross border campaigns. I have my own reservations about many recent conflicts, but the soldiers who fought and gave their lives were doing so on our behalf, even if we might not personally agree and it always fills me with sadness to see such sacrifices being denigrated (as has happened quite recently here in the UK).
My thoughts and condolences on your loss. I was brought up by a family with very strong military, naval and air force background; family members and extended family having fought and died in both world wars, The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Korea, The Falklands and more recently the Middle east conflict.
I think that your beautiful post serves is a great tribute to all who have recently died in situations of conflict in the service of their country.

hildegarde said...

Very refined and wise in emotion, description and photo (movie) : respect.

Sandy said...

I am so sorry reading this, that is too young to go. I enjoyed everything you wrote and will bookmark and watch the tribute later tomorrow.

My condolences to all of you.

Deslilas said...

I used to have a very bad image of the Marines after seeing a movie "The brigg" may years ago.
May be I was wrong, nothing is completely white or black.
Hard post today.

Bunny said...

Ruth, my condolences to the family.

Being on the other side of the globe, its quite amusing how we do different rituals to send our loved ones to their next destination.

This tribute was one of the best things you've done for David. I know he's all smiles at you all.

Christina said...

God bless you and your family Ruth. I am sending up prayers in hopes, my David will greet your David in heaven.

I love you, my dear friend.

Anna said...

Ruth my condolences. Your photography is beautifu, good thing you did have the camera, it is always nice to remember sad and happy moments. Very nice tribute to your cousin. Thanks for sharing your story. Anna :)

SE'LAH... said...

Extending my deepest condolences for your lost. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time.

Ginnie said...

Have I been so long away, Ruth, that I totally missed this and had no idea of your loss?! I think Thomas Moore talks about our traditions (was it he?) or ceremonies and how important they are for giving life meaning. I'm glad you had this experience and could share it like this with us. Thank you.