Over the years, I have buried a number of veterans. A few from the first world war; more from the second world war. More recently, Korean and Vietnam veterans, including my dad and my wife’s dad. Many who saw combat, death and dismemberment never talked about it. They stayed bottled up, silently carried it and often felt a guilt for having survived when others didn’t. The sights, the sounds, stretches of boredom, battles, bootcamp, laughter and loneliness all linger in the echoes of their past.
Then there are the thousands and thousands of moms and dads, grandparents, siblings, classmates and girlfriends who never saw their loved ones again. Dreams that never come true leave a hole in the heart. And although all are filled with pride at the thought of such bravery, service and sacrifice, now there is an empty chair that can never be filled.
At the funerals, there are always veteran volunteers, who come in uniform, to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. There is a service, a reading, a prayer from a chaplain, a trumpet plays taps, a 21 gun salute and a flag – carefully folded – and handed to a mother, wife, son or daughter. I never get tired of the flag ceremony.
Last summer, I helped bury a man, a military funeral, and at the very end, there was a white dove released. The dove represented freedom, honor and the soul rising into the heavens. I get a huge lump in my heart, tears in my eyes and feel awestruck and honored. Sometimes I get angry when people disrespect our men and women in uniform. I think about the unbearable burden, grief, sacrifice and hurt that wives, girlfriends, mothers and fathers have experienced. I think of all the children who grew up missing daddy and sometimes a mommy.
Those brave men and women of every age, color, religion and background who have fallen in battle, those who came back safe and families who have been so deeply affected, deserve our love, respect and thankfulness! Personally, I love the gesture and symbolism of releasing the white dove into the heavens.