Monday, February 16, 2009

A Local Hero

Yesterday, a fallen soldier made his way home. He was a local guy. I don't think he was from Marshall, but he was from one of the towns nearby. His wife was from Marshall, and they just got married in November. Newlyweds. And now he is gone, killed in Afghanistan. I didn't know him or his family. But I know yesterday was important.

We let out of church early so people could go get flags and stand along Route 1 as a motorcade came through carrying his body. First came the police cars, then the hearse with the flag-draped casket. Then his family followed behind. More police and military. Then The Cross ministry came through, all on their motorcycles, several of them from our church.

It was moving, standing there. As we waited for the car to pass by, we held our flags, and handed Abigail hers. We tried our best to explain what we could to her, and why it was so important. We explained that we were going to see a soldier. Then we sang "The Lord's Army" and "Onward Christian Soldiers" to try to give her a frame of reference. We explained to her that soldiers are very important people. They fight for our country so that we can have special freedom that a lot of people don't have. She held her flag in front of her, smiling, and said the Pledge of Allegiance (which she has known well since the summer Olympics). She asked if we would get to see the soldier. We told her that we would only get to see the car he was in. We explained that he died fighting for our country, that he had been shot. "Like Abraham Lincoln," she stated matter-of-factly.

"He is coming home to have a funeral," Paul explained to her. Being the daughter of a pastor, our little toddler has been to her share of funerals already. "Remember Warren's funeral? It will be kind of like that."

But different, I'm afraid....quite different from the funeral of dear Warren who lived a long, full life.

We saw his hearse coming in the near distance. I asked Paul what we were supposed to do. Nothing seemed appropriate at a time like we stand in silence? Do we applaud the sacrifice he made? We just stood, holding our flags silently as the car drove by. Tears in our eyes. So appreciative for this man we never knew.

As we walked away, to turn our flags back in to the firehouse, I told Abigail "You know another soldier. You know our friend Jake? Jake-and-Joanna Jake? He's a soldier."

Abigail nodded, "He died, too."

"No, Jake didn't die. Not all soldiers die. Just some do. Jake is already home with Joanna."

"Only this soldier died."

"No. I wish it were true. There have been more."

"Does he still talk to us?" she asked me.

"No, he can't talk to us anymore. But maybe he can talk to Abraham Lincoln."

She skipped on ahead to grab Paul's hand. Paul hummed a little song that made me realize this young soldier does indeed still talk to us. He spoke to us in his action. I don't know his life, his family, his young wife. But I know that he spoke to us in his sacrifice. That there truly are things in this life worthy of dying for. Freedoms. Serving God openly. Choosing our leaders. His sacrifice was so much greater than we realize....and he speaks to us in it.

Randall Goodgame sings the song "Susan Coats' Pants" that Paul was humming yesterday. The premise of the song is that he buys a pair of camouflage army pants from the local Salvation Army. The tag inside the pants is labeled "Coats, Susan". Throughout the song, he speculates about the soldier who once wore the pants. The last verse says:

I said they'll never fit me

And I guess they never will
I ain't never cleaned a gun
I'll never take any hill
And sometimes soldiers die
Settin' people free
That's more like Jesus than I'll ever be

Yes, Abigail, he can speak to us. Volumes.


debra said...

Yes, he does speak volumes. A highschool friend of mine died in Iraq a bit over a year ago and every time I think about him, I am reminded of the sacrifice that freedom takes. I am so thankful there are soldiers like Will, and this man and my brothers to protect such valuable ideals. Thanks for sharing your experience of welcoming home a hero.

nlamom said...

It really was such a moving experience. Even the little ones like Liane and Abigail new somewhere deep down that this was a special moment. It was so quite on that street yesterday. I am so grateful to men like this and their families who make this sacrifice for their country. Mitch would have been honored to stand out there for this solider, being a former Navy man, he has taught our kids about how important military men and women are to our country. Since he is not well, we stood in my dear husbands place for him. I was honored to stand in the cold air with my two little ones to show them how important this man was. My heart breaks for this family. It really brings it to reality to see that in person, and not just on the news.

nickmal said...

That was my third funeral procession this year in the dead of winter, tearfully, standing in unity with my community among all the stars and stripes was for me, the most touching experience. Losing our grandmas together wasn't easy for our family. Still, their lived long lives of love. It hurt for me in knowing he was really just a boy, not much older than my own son...what a sacrifice

Stacey said...

I'm a little behind on reading blogs, but I wanted to tell you what a beautiful post this is. It brings tears to my eyes and fills my heart with gratitude. I bet your daughter won't soon forget that experience.