Having just attended the military funeral service of a 27-year-old female Air Force reservist who died from wounds received in battle in Afghanistan, I was reminded of the dignity and honorable nature of these services.
When mustered, the Air Force Honor Guard snapped to attention and marched with a marked and solemn cadence toward the flag-draped casket in the rear of the funeral hearse. With the precision of a finely tuned machine, the group split its single-file line to assemble in two teams of three at each side of the fallen warrior’s casket. The pace to the grave site from the hearse was slow and dignified, with each motion of the military guard timed precisely, instilling me with respect for the time spent drilling and the commitment of each participating member. The Honor Guard’s assembly around the warrior’s casket and the regimented folding of the flag should give any patriot pause to reflect on the sacrifices made. That would include not only the ultimate sacrifice by the fallen warrior, but also those sacrifices made by the loved ones and families who unselfishly shared their heroes with our country.
An officer presented the folded flag to the fallen warrior’s loved ones by saying, “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Air Force as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” The three rifle volleys fired graveside were very moving, prompting me to investigate the meaning behind them. Military history tells us that U.S. Navy regulations in 1818 were the first to prescribe a specific manner for rendering gun salutes. Those regulations required that “when the President shall visit a ship of the United States’ Navy, he is to be saluted with 21 guns.” The Navy also used the term “gun” to refer to artillery, not rifles.
Since what I witnessed did not constitute a “21-gun salute,” I discovered that firing three volleys comes from an old battlefield custom. The two warring sides would cease hostilities to clear their dead from the battlefield, and the firing of three volleys meant that the dead had been properly cared for and that side was ready to resume the battle.
Last, the playing of “Taps” by a lone bugler has never failed to make my eyes well up before, and today was no different. In recognition of 2nd Lt. Christina Maddock, let’s remember that we are all part of that grateful nation she served, and recognize that while we have cared for our dead, the battle has since resumed and still others will make sacrifices that we are both collectively and individually duty-bound to honor.
Attending this military funeral reminded me again how important it is to thank a veteran today for what he or she does. In doing so, we give real meaning to the presentations made at military funeral services for all our fallen warriors, and demonstrate sincere appreciation to the families and loved ones of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for us.
Winter Springs, FL
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