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Old 04-27-2004, 18:52   #1
RussP
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Honoring The Fallen, Quietly

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Honoring The Fallen, Quietly
By Jonathan Evans

There are no reporters on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base. The public is not allowed to witness the military tradition of "receiving the remains."
Instead, there are soldiers, roused at dark hours to stand in the confines of what seems like a secret as the dead are brought home.

I am one of the soldiers. Nearly every day we learn of another death in Iraq. In our collective consciousness, we tally the statistics of dead and wounded. The number is over 500 now. But none of our conjurings are as real and tangible as the Stars and Stripes folded perfectly over a coffin cradling one of those statistics on his or her way home.

It does not matter where somebody stands politically on the war, but I believe that all who have an opinion should know the cost of that opinion.
When a soldier dies in a foreign land, his or her remains are returned to the United States for their final rest. The remains arrive in Dover, Del., without fanfare. No family member is present. There are no young children to feel sad or confused. Just a small group of soldiers waiting to do their duty and honor the fallen.

"Dover flights" are met by soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, the storied Old Guard. They are true soldiers, assigned to an esteemed regiment, but it is a unit defined by polish, not mud. It seems that they quietly long to be tested with their comrades "over there." But it is clear to me as I watch them that they find immense pride in honoring their country this way.

Silence. I am a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, and it is my job to have the honor guard at Dover at whatever hour a flight arrives. In military-speak, the plane's grim contents are referred to as "HRs"--"human remains." Once the plane arrives, conversation ends. Th e soldiers form a squad of two even ranks and march out to the tarmac. A general follows, flanked by a chaplain and the ranking representative from the service in which the fallen soldier served.

The plane's cargo door opens slowly revealing a cavernous space. The honor guard steps onto a mobile platform that is raised to the cargo bay. The soldiers enter in lock-step formation and place themselves on both sides of the casket. The squad lifts, the soldiers buckling slightly under the weight. The remains have been packed on ice into metal containers that can easily exceed 500 pounds. The squad moves slowly back onto the elevated platform and deposits the casket with a care that evokes an image of fraternal empathy. It is the only emotion they betray, but their gentleness is unmistakable and compelling. The process continues until the last casket is removed from the plane. On bad nights, this can take over an hour. The few of us observing say nothing, the silence absolute, underscored by something sacred. There is no rule or order that dictates it, but the silence is maintained with a discipline that needs no command.

The caskets are lowered together to the earth, where the soldiers lift them into a van, one by one. The doors close, and the squad moves out. Just before the van rounds the corner, someone speaks in a voice just above a whisper. We snap to and extend a sharp salute.

There are those who would politicize this scene, making it the device of an argument over the freedom of the press. But if this scene were ever to be exploited by the lights and cameras of our "infotainment" industry, it would be offensive. Still, the story must be told. A democracy's lifeblood, after all, is an informed citizenry, and this image is nowhere in the public mind. The men and women arriving in flag-draped caskets do not deserve the disrespect of arriving in the dark confines of secrecy. But it is a soldier's story, and it must be told through a soldier's eyes. In the military, we seldom discuss whether we are for or against the war. Instead, we know intimately its cost. For those of us standing on the tarmac at Dover in those still and inky nights, our feelings have nothing to do with politics. They are feelings of sadness, of empathy. And there is nothing abstract about them.
Honestly cannot think of anything else to say...
;?
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Old 05-04-2004, 13:42   #2
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I can relate to these soldiers from the Old Guard. At various times while I was on active duty, I was a member of various "Funeral Details". I can honestly say that I would rather spend my time in the field than in such assignments. I would rather spend my days road marching, moving-to-contact, and digging fighting positions. This is the job for which I had become an Infantryman for.

But when you are part of such a detail, you want everything to be done perfectly. You want every member of the rifle detail to fire so that it sounds as if it came from a single . You want the Taps to be sharp and crisp and in the proper cadence and with the right solenm pauses. You want the casket-bearers to be stoic and solemn; and you pray that they can move as one without any bobbling of the casket. You wan the flag to be folded perfectly on the first try. And you hope that the Presenting Officer can say the right words to help ease the greiving family's sorrow.

Yet, we are human. Tears will run down our faces, the bugler can make a mistake and one of the members of the rifle detail can be late, early, or have a misfire. The casket-bearers can step into a depression or strain under the weight of the fallen. It might take more than one attempt to correctly fold the American flag that draped the hero's casket. The Presenting Officer can choke on his words and show his grief for the family's lost.

But this is why we assign real soldiers to conduct this asignment. If we wanted perfection we should use machines. It is these small mistakes that make each and every funeral memorable for everyone. When you are part of these details, you will forever remember the thanks that you all received from the deceased friends on a job well done. You will remember the histerics their loved ones went through. You never forget the silent grieving the strongest of survivors showed.

I hated having to put on my Dress Uniform, spit-shined boots, shined brass, and stand in the heat or rain for the whole ceremony. I hated the hours upon hours that we had to practice so that we faced, loaded, aimed, and fired our M-16A1s at the same time. I am still honored that I was able to do my best for that retired Colonel from Alabama, that young Sergeant who was killed by a vehiclular accident in Germany and buried in GA, and the other fellow soldiers we tried to honor with our presence.

Despite our racial or generational gaps, they were fellow soldiers and they have earned the time and effort it takes for the current generation of soldiers to make their funeral as perfect as possible. Despite the anti-Bush liberals who think that he should attend each and every one of these Dover Flights, I would have to vehemently disagree. If it were up to me, I would never allow any press, politician, or family member to view it ever. This is the time where the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine say their goodbyes to a fallen comrade - away from everyone else. Just as the actual funeral is where the hero's grieving family and friends say their goodbyes without any interference from the military, press, or politicians.

God Bless these soldiers who partake in this most thankless of jobs. God Bless the heroes they bear on our (Veterans) behalf.
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Old 05-07-2004, 17:06   #3
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I love them all, for they are my fallen brethren.
;?
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Old 05-07-2004, 17:14   #4
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;? ^6
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Old 05-07-2004, 18:14   #5
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I realy wish I could say something here, but yall have already said it.
God Bless
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Old 05-20-2004, 07:11   #6
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Old 05-20-2004, 08:53   #7
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Well said Carlos.
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Old 05-20-2004, 16:07   #8
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Gefallen Kamaraden.
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Old 05-21-2004, 08:39   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Citadel
Gefallen Kamaraden.
Your meaning is...?
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Old 05-21-2004, 09:34   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by RussP
Your meaning is...?

"Fallen comrades" in German. Sorry, don't know how to do the Umlaut on this keyboard.
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Old 05-21-2004, 09:40   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by Citadel
"Fallen comrades" in German. Sorry, don't know how to do the Umlaut on this keyboard.
Just curious... Didn't see a post from you on the "Vets, tell us about your service..." thread, but you do post in my "Paratrooper vets told to pack it in..." thread that you jumped with the Pathfinders in 2000 and 2001 D-Day events, but didn't in 2002 & 2003 because of deployment.
Are you an active duty Pathfinder? Active or former: ;?

Guess that's why your use of German puzzled me.

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Last edited by RussP; 05-22-2004 at 08:14..
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Old 05-25-2004, 09:01   #12
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Old 05-28-2004, 19:03   #13
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;? ;? ;? ;? ;?
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Old 05-29-2004, 12:22   #14
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;? ;? ;? ;? ;?
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