Today I was honored to be a small part of a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. I conducted a service at Arlington once earlier this year, but this time was different. George died a couple of months ago. Today was the earliest his family could have a service at Ft. Myers Chapel. It is an understatement to say that I wasn’t ready for a Full Honors Military Funeral.
For those not familiar with a Full Honors Military Funeral (Navy), the funeral included; a service at the Ft. Myers Chapel (just outside Arlington National Cemetery), a Navy Chaplain, a casket team including a horse-drawn caisson, a color guard, a firing party, a bugler, an escort and escort platoon, a military band, and this lone civilian. I’m guessing that there were approximately 50-60 Naval personnel directly involved in this service.
As the clock moved toward 1:00, the thermometer steadily rose toward 95 degrees, with a haze that turned the sky and horizon the same dull grey. Moving from the chill of the air-conditioned chapel to the softening asphalt parking lot I was stunned by the stark white uniforms of dozens of young sailors. These men and women were standing at attention to honor a man who served his country two generations before them. How he served, and what he did, they had learned in the history books as if it were in the ancient past. But here they were, standing in rows and columns mirroring the placement of the tombstones in this most hallowed of grounds. With great precision and ceremony, they attended to the remains of this hero with a tenderness that belied the uniform. He would have been proud to witness their devotion to their task.
I did not know that George commanded a ship that was part of the Naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. To me, he was a man who was a regular and faithful member of the congregation. He was thoughtful. He was passionate about his faith. He had a deep and abiding care for his wife. But behind it all, he had served his country honorably, and the honor was being returned.
Following the chapel service, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ and music of the faith gave witness to Christ’s love, George’s remains were transported to their final resting place. I’ve seen parades that were shorter. With the military band, the color guard, and the escort platoon leading the way, this parade moved steadily through row after row of honored military dead. We traveled not far from the grave of the US President who ordered George and his ship to Cuba. We stopped a mile later and walked into the sea of gravestones to the place reserved for George. Under the canopy of a US flag, held taut by 6 young sailors, George’s remains were commended to God. The firing party, those folding the flag, and the chaplain performed their duties with respect.
Thank you US Navy.
Thank you George.