Yesterday I helped do an honor-guard escort for a soldier from a small town just south of here a ways. A 22-year-old kid, killed in Iraq. Sucks.
I was there when the family saw the coffin for the first time. It was about as sad as it can get… The family (mother, father and sister — herself a teen aged Marine) gathered around the casket as it came off the airplane; they looked so small and so alone, those three standing there in the middle of an echoing airport hanger, quietly crying over their soldier’s casket, hugging each other as tightly as they could…
Just before we left the airport, the soldier’s sister (the young Marine) got on the back of the front right motorcycle. I heard the driver, a Vietnam veteran, giving her some brief instructions on how to be a passenger and what to expect. Moments later, just as we were starting to let our clutches out, the soldier’s mother ran up and got on the back of our Chaplain’s bike. It was an honor to have them ride with us.
We had two police cars in front of us. Following them were the first two motorcycles, the pace-setters. Behind them were myself and out group’s Chaplain (with the mother on back), both of us with flags. Behind us was one single motorcycle in the left lane, leaving a space in the right lane for the “missing man.” Behind him were two more motorcycles with flags. Then came the hearse, followed by two more bikes with flags, then the rest of the group followed in traditional “staggered” formation. It takes a bit of planning to get this all set up…
As we passed through each small town on the way, people were standing quietly in the streets, holding their flags. Some saluted as the procession went by, others held their hands over their hearts, still others just stood. In the stretches between towns we passed small groups of people who had gathered in the countryside to pay their respects. An old, old farmer stood in the ditch by his field, his old WWII dress hat on, saluting, tears flowing silently down his cheeks. A bit farther was a family, standing quietly at the end of their lane; a young boy had stepped forward a few paces — either to make sure we saw his flag or to better catch a glimpse of the shiny motorcycles, or, most likely, to see firsthand how people truly do respect their fallen.
Part of our tradition is to have our back (passenger) foot pegs down during funerals and times of mourning. That lets the spirit of the deceased ride along with any one of us if he chooses. I think the soldier rode with us.
Tomorrow is the funeral service. I’ll be there.