As I’ve gotten older, and since my brother enlisted in the Army, my dad has started sharing more and more about his time in the Air Force during the mid 70′s to the early 80′s. This weekend, I learned that he was in the Honor Guard as part of his duty. I wanted to share with you all the email that he sent me this weekend. It is a good reminder about why we celebrate Memorial Day.
In 1975 I was a new E5. I was on my second enlistment in the Air Force. That September I was tapped to be part of the Lowry AFB Honor Detail. It was our duty to render military honors to the fallen personnel and their families at the funeral service. The detail lasted for 30 days. The Honor Detail is made up of three teams. The pallbearers, the color guard, the firing party, and the officer that was entrusted to present the folded flag of our nation to the family.
When I was first chosen, I didn’t understand why I HAD to perform this duty. A month of perfect Class A uniforms. Sharp creases with spit-shined combat boots and bloused trousers. Uniform inspections before we left the base and before every service. We had a large, mostly white Calico cat at the time. Guess how that looked against a dark blue uniform. I used up a lot of masking tape that month. We had to learn to properly march again. And then learn the proper drill and ceremonies for the task we were undertaking.
We rendered honors to 33 service members and veterans that month. Some were from WW2, some were from Korea, and some were from Vietnam. Sometimes the fallen were known to our team members. No matter what the age, background or personal circumstance; all of the fallen were our brothers. Some of the services were in large national cemeteries, others in small country church cemeteries. Some were held on bright sunny days, other were cold and rainy. Each service was, at the same time, the same as the ones we had previously rendered honors at and yet each was different. Each service touched me in a different way. I still have very clear memories of a few of the services.
From my position on the color guard I got to see how the family and friends reacted to the honors being rendered to their loved one and friend. “Taps” was still being played by a hidden bugler back then. The sound seemed to come from nowhere and from everywhere. I could see the physical impact of that sound on the gathered people. There was always the shock from the rifle reports as the three volleys of seven shots rang out. Then the folding and presentation of the flag, solemnly and quietly presented in behalf of a grateful nation.
At the end of the month, if it would have been permitted, I would have volunteered for another month. And at the same time I was relieved that the Honor Detail was no longer my duty. I have since come to realize that serving on the Honor Detail was not a duty, it was a privilege.
Please remember, Memorial Day was started by a group of women placing flags on the graves of Civil War veterans. It is the people, not the government, honoring the fallen. It is the people, not the government, remembering the tremendous cost to our nation.
I found the following article today and it brought back some solemn memories for me.
Enjoy the holiday but please remember why we have it.