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Today’s detail was planeside honors.

Seven young aviators in dress green uniforms drove in a minivan to the airport. There was laughter and talk inside the van, because nobody here is morbid. Upon arrival, we spent a few minutes coordinating with the funeral director, the police escort for the hearse, the traffic controller in charge of positioning the aircraft, and the guy who drives the conveyor belt used to offload the coffin. We waited in the arrivals lounge for a while, but then family members started to arrive, so we moved outside.

When the plane finally arrived, the pilot’s shutdown checklists took longer than the ceremony itself. As we unloaded the coffin and carried it the few feet to the hearse, a young child cried in the distance. The family was present, but they weren’t allowed on the flight line itself; TSA regulations.

None of us know whose coffin we carried. We know that it was a Specialist who died in Afghanistan, and that at the funeral on Saturday a General will be presenting the flag to the family. Name, gender, circumstances of death; these remain mysteries.

For the family, our presence and that of a comerade of the deceased who accompanied them on the flight back were symbols that the military really does care, that it honors their sacrifice and that of their loved one. Personally, the message seemed a bit more bleak: that in the event I die in the course of duty, it will only be noticed by a few family members and some people I never met who are assigned to ensure I shuffle this mortal coil with all due pomp and circumstance.

Even so. As the hearse departed, and we all raised our white gloves in salute, I could not help but feel that perhaps some ceremony is a good and necessary thing. Even if the presence of my detail accomplished nothing in quantifiable terms, I can trust that the family derived some comfort from my presence, and hope that however this nameless soldier died, they would be satisfied with the life they had.

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1 Comment

Comment by drgoodspeed Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.2
2008-09-26 21:26:16

I am touched that in your heart you felt the importance of ceremony. If it was religious, it would be the importance of ritual. There is meaning beyond cynicism. You are changing.


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