Rhea Noel MacDonald
GARDEN OF STONE
There are many honors that we, as Service men and women, can be called on to perform during our tours of service. It is these honors that make giving of ourselves, in sacrifice, to our country worthwhile. It can be as simple a ceremony as colors, or as complex a ceremony as retirement. Perhaps the one Ceremony that stands out through the ages is the one we give to honor our fallen. It is a ceremony etched forever into our memories, our souls. There is not a soldier alive whose blood doesn’t run cold when the sound of “Taps” rings through the air. What follows is a memory. It is an image ingrained into my mind so deeply, that I can never forget.
While stationed at PSD, Naval Station, Ingleside, Texas, I had the honor of being in a ceremony for a soldier whose flag had been unfurled by his grandchildren. It was one of my proudest moments while in the Navy. A meeting had been called, and the Chief has asked if there were any of us who would volunteer to help refold a flag for one of the civilians working in our offices. It was a no-brainer for us, and volunteers quickly lined up. I was one of them. It was then explained to us that we were going to surprise her and do this as a full Ceremony, without the body present. We spent the rest of the day rehearsing with chairs set up the length and width of a coffin. We wanted this to be perfect. For her, we would be perfect. The next day, as the crowd started to gather, we all got nervous. Word on a small base spreads quickly, and word of what we had planned had gotten around without the woman who this was being done for finding out. She was led to a seat and held to her breast a portrait of her husband in uniform. She knew she was going to be presented with a refolded flag, but she did not know that soon there would be eight sailors and a Marine standing in front of her at full attention, preparing that flag. All around us was silence. Not a word was said as those around us watched. We marched in precision to our places, carrying the flag outspread between us. As we began to fold the flag, each of us fought back emotion. With each fold completed, each of us felt a swelling pride. Though there was no coffin, not a single one of us folding that flag could contain the tears, or the pain, associated with knowing this man had given his life in Vietnam. Standing there, looking into the face of a young man with whom I worked closely, watching the tears fall down his cheeks and his hands tremble as we folded; that is an image I shall never let go of. The hardest part was managing to stay at attention during this, not allowed to wipe away the tears, not allowed to let our bodies visibly tremble. As we presented his wife with the flag, the entire crowd that had assembled to watch us honor this man, were in tears. It was funny that those of us chosen to do this task were of the lowest rank in our offices. It was the highest honor we could ever have been given. Here we were, a small group of Personnel men and Disbursing Clerks, all ranked E-6 and below, bestowed with the honor. It is one memory I will never forget.
To this day, the sound of Taps brings me to tears and the pain I feel when I hear it hits hard. I have prepared my husband for that day, the day we all must face at some time. He knows what to expect. He knows that on that day, his composure will not matter. He knows that he will be allowed to shed his tears and that I will be honored by them. He is trying to get into the Navy now. He wants to enlist so that he may experience what those of us here in this group know all too well: our camaraderie, our pride, our dedication. When he told me that he really wanted to go in, I began preparing. I know what may come. I know what to expect. Though I don’t like to think of the future in negatives, no one but myself can prepare me if it is him that goes before me. It is one reason that Memorial Day is so hard. I have witnessed ceremony, as unpleasant and as high an honor it is. So today, I am praying. I pray for all those still in harms way. I pray for those whom we have lost. I pray for those of us who know that honor of giving of ourselves to protect those of us who are unable to. I pray mainly for those who have seen the horrors of war. And I pray for those who perform ceremony everyday. I love you all. God can only measure what all of you mean to me. So, today I pray for you.
©Copyright 3 July 2003 by Rhea Noel MacDonald