With love and appreciation to veterans and soldiers who have worn a uniform in service and sacrifice to the United States of America.
My husband Jerry walked through the front door and sat his briefcase next to the tall grandfather clock. I was preparing supper and heard only part of the conversation.
“Wait a minute … who died?” I asked, trying to comprehend what he was saying.
“The man I’ve been telling you about. He’s been sick for weeks,” Jerry responded.
Then I remembered. An older man, a veteran of World War II, was a member of Jerry’s church. Jerry loved this man and would sit for hours as the gentleman shared stories of his days amid the horror of war. He survived war, but time and cancer had overtaken the man’s body and he had been close to death for several days. Jerry had spent that entire day with a family saying their final goodbyes to a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. My heart hurt for Jerry and for the family who had watched their loved one slip away. I, too, grieved for the man and I didn’t even know his name.
“Cath, we talked about the funeral tonight. They want to have it the day after tomorrow … on April 5,” Jerry told me in a tentative voice.
I turned to face Jerry and my attitude quickly changed.
“You have to be joking,” I snapped. Surely my husband would not spend April 5, our FIRST wedding anniversary, performing a funeral for a man I didn’t even know. After all, we would celebrate our first anniversary only once, and I certainly did not intend for that celebration to take place in a funeral home. In my anger I became convinced that this man had timed his death just to destroy our anniversary plans.
Was I being selfish? Certainly. But please do not judge me too harshly. As a preacher’s wife I quickly grew accustomed to planning my life around a church calendar. That was fine – most of the time. But it seemed that funerals, weddings, church meetings or last minute crises, were forever interrupting a vacation or day off or special evening together. And now my very first wedding anniversary was being ruined because of the death of this man – and I didn’t even know his name.
So, I proceeded to pout and threw a rather exquisite preacher’s wife temper tantrum. I was genuinely angry. I had waited my entire lifetime to celebrate a wedding anniversary and I did not want to be cheated out of the experience. And this was my first anniversary – something that would never come again. Plus, I knew my emotional display would probably be good for an extra present or two!
Regardless of my tantrum, I realized what the priority would be that April 5. Receiving a dozen pink roses that morning did make it easier for me to dress for the funeral. And, Jerry had promised me a romantic dinner at our favorite restaurant. Obviously, our first anniversary would not be a total failure.
Jerry was very quiet as he drove to the funeral home that April afternoon.
“He probably feels really guilty about our anniversary,” I thought to myself. But as we walked hand-in-hand into the funeral home, I recognized that Jerry’s thoughts were on greater issues – his genuine friendship with this man and his role as minister to a grieving family.
To my own amazement I felt my anger melting as I faced a flag-draped coffin flanked by two young soldiers dressed nobly in Class A Army uniforms complete with caps and white gloves. They stood crisply at attention, their eyes fixed straight ahead. A simple arrangement of red and white flowers with a large blue bow sat nobly in front of the stately bronze coffin. A quiet dignity filled the room as a mixture of veterans, displaying the regalia of their own military service, paid tribute to one of their own. There were hugs, tears, and talk of battles won and lost. There were memories of friends who never came home. But there was laughter as well. Having never attended a military funeral, I was awe-struck by the unity and love displayed by this extended armed forces family.
The time for the service approached and Jerry offered his final prayer with the family. Three soldiers and one non-commissioned officer stepped forward in unison to accompany the coffin to the chapel. Inside the chapel, these young soldiers offered a slow salute to the man who had fought so bravely for our country. The service was a beautiful mixture of respect, honor, faith, and patriotism. It was a heartfelt celebration, not only for the one who had died, but for all who love this country.
Full Military Honors were present at the gravesite as well. Following Jerry’s words of comfort, the four uniformed soldiers gave one final slow salute to the man in the coffin. Then, while two of the soldiers watched attentively, the remaining two silently folded the American flag neatly into its familiar triangular shape. Not a word was spoken but, in the quiet, I was not surprised to hear the rattle of tissues as tears were wiped away from sad eyes. To my surprise, I reached for a tissue of my own. Unashamed of my falling tears, I watched as a young Evesoldier presented the flag to the soldier’s widow and whispered words of comfort on behalf of a grateful nation.
My eyes flooded and I reached for another tissue. Wiping my eyes, I flinched as, in the distance, uniformed riflemen fired shots overhead. As the echo of gunfire faded, the mournful wail of “Taps” was played by a young man with tears in his own eyes.
The crowd slowly dispersed. I walked silently to grasp the hand of my husband on our first wedding anniversary. With tears streaming down my face, my thoughts of presents and flowers fled to the back of my mind. Silently I scolded myself for my selfishness and the memory of my rather exquisite preacher’s wife temper tantrum.
I had just learned, in a very poignant manner, the way in which our priorities can so easily go astray. I had just learned, in an humbling moment, what a blessing it is to live in the United States of America, and how grateful I am to those who have made freedom a reality for me.
I wept for a hero that day.
And I didn’t even know his name.
God Bless America.
--© Cathy Lee Phillips
_____________________________________________________________________________________ To learn more about Cathy Lee Phillips, visit www.CathyLeePhillips.com.
Call today to book her for your church program.