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“Taps” for the Father

Posted by glennled on July 22, 2011

“When all three of us salute the casket, that’s when you play ‘Taps,’” said the Sergeant of the Honor Guard, dressed to perfection in his military uniform.

About an hour later, the hearse drove up to the gravesite, and the pall bearers lifted the casket onto the frame directly above the dark, rectangular hole dug into the earth. As the large crowd gathered, a gentleman in a suit introduced himself and called me by name. He had

In Brice's Garden

seen me, dressed in all black, holding my cornet. He is the son of the deceased father, being laid to rest last Saturday alongside the body of his wife in the Resthaven 2 Section of Evergreen Washelli Cemetery along Highway 99 in north Seattle.

“I am a Vietnam veteran,” he said.

“So am I,” I replied. “It’s my honor and privilege to do this.”

He went to be seated at his place among the family and friends directly in front of the grave. From where I was standing near a distant Japanese maple tree, I saw the preacher say a few words, no more than five minutes, to the large crowd at the gravesite, and then I saw the three Washington National Guardsmen, two men and a woman, salute the casket. For the second time that day, I sounded the 24-notes of “Taps.”

The Honor Guard lifted the flag off the casket and carefully folded it into the familiar triangle. One passed it to the other, who took it to the son.

We have often seen this ritual, have we not, always done the same way, as our veterans are laid to rest in peace around the world? The guardsman kneels in front of the person, the widow or widower, the mother or father, the son or daughter, the sister or brother, whomever, and presents the flag, one white-gloved hand below, one above, and, looking him or her in the eyes, whispers something very short and dignified. Then the Honor Guard marches away and leaves.

With the gift of a perfectly folded flag, in one moment after a lifetime, the United States of America thanks the son and the surviving family for the armed service of the father. I shall never know how it feels to give or receive that flag. How could one maintain one’s composure at such a moment?

But I can give them “Taps,” and this I know: it’s all about love and honor before God—for that’s all there is to life.

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