Blue sky overhead. Green leaves flutter in the Oklahoma breeze, and birds sing in the trees. Spring is here at last.
Newly turned red earth marks the place where one man will rejoin it. After traveling around the world, he returns to be buried surrounded by stones bearing familiar names. On this day he is joined by family and friends in the town where he was born.
Blue uniforms. Six men in formation approach the place, carrying a polished wooden box and a flag.
The chaplain reads the words of an airman/poet over an airman who was never a poet, but who loved to fly and would have added his "Amen" to the words of John Gillespie Magee:
"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
Family and friends reach out for a nearby hand, holding back sobs. They watch with pride, heads lifted high, refusing to be overcome with grief or miss one moment of the honor due their loved one. It is a ceremony he would be proud to see, and they silently hope he does see it from the burning blue, the sanctity of space he now shares with God.
His remains will rest here in this small town cemetery, but not his soul nor his memory.
The honor guard folds the flag in silence, broken only by muted commands, and the trill of a bird. One airman approaches the family and looks directly into the eyes of the widow:
"On behalf of the President of the United States, please accept this flag as a symbol of your loved one's honored and faithful service to this country."
Three times the rifles sound, and then the bugle plays "Taps." Day is done in the middle of a sunny afternoon.
Day is done for one veteran. One among millions who have served, lived and died. Each is loved, mourned and missed - during the funeral and for long afterward.
The ceremony is repeated often and sometimes too early for soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines. Some die in service and some live to retire, but they all surrender their lives for love of country and belief in the flag that will eventually be extended over their caskets and offered to their next of kin.
I live on the homefront. I've never experienced danger in the air or on a field of battle. But I've been on the front lines at the graveside of one who did.
On Memorial Day, how will you remember those who have lived and died in service to our country? Hit a few sales, enjoy a good book, gather with friends? By all means celebrate, make potato salad, burn a burger. Wave a flag. When you do, remember those for whom it has been spread and folded one final time.
Excerpt from Spouse Calls: Messages from a Military Life by Terri Barnes. (Elva Resa, 2014) Quotation from "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee.