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May 28, 2004

2LT Leonhard Cowherd, Final Roll Call


"First Sergeant, Call the Roll."


Lieutenant Leonard Cowherd...

Lieutenant Leonard Cowherd...

Lieutenant Leonard Cowherd...


"First Sergeant, let Lieutenant Cowherd's name be stricken from the roll."

Play this as you read. Amazing Grace


All,

Before all that is to follow, I want to thank the Agnew's for hosting a gathering after the Arlington ceremony. They are the parents of Charles', Leonard's twin, roommate from VMI. This was 'just' the thing; you can't put that many high-energy young people together without laughter and good memories finding a way to the surface. This gathering was vital to lifting spirits and providing a steam valve for emotions. At the end - the young ones stuffed the 'old folk' in one limo headed back to Culpeper while they went out in another to find some adventure.

As it should be. Thank you for opening your home and your hospitality.

I now have to apologize to all of you who attended the Arlington ceremony. We know this wasn't a trivial thing for your to accomplish. We are sad that we couldn't visit and thank you personally. I now know that an Arlington internment is one of being 'whisked' - here and there and it all makes sense but... So many friends and we didn't get to say hello rightly. Thank you. Your presence and support meant more than you'll ever know; to Sarah, to the Cowherd's, to the Cerri's, and to veterans everywhere.

And what to say of the ceremony itself?

We left Culpeper with a motorcycle escort and through every county and interstate we were handed off to the next jurisdiction's protection. At points there were up to 6 motorcycles and police cars guiding us through the various turns and road nuances. The coordination and dedication to make this possible were not lost on us. At the end, the motorcycle police managed to array themselves at the entrance to Arlington with a standing salute to Leonard. We never had the chance to meet, know, or thank them... They just honored him.

Of Arlington?

An old friend who lovingly...sadly opens his door for what must come. Arlington is America's memory of what makes the nation. Other memorials on the mall are wonderful and meaningful - but Arlington is not only for us...it is of us. Generations have made this place part of the national fabric. Rich man, poor man. General, private. Lifer, conscript. All services, all heritages. Men and women who gave the full measure; honored in perpetuity.

There are no surprises at Arlington. Everything is as manicured and as perfect as nature can be made. Acres and acres of military order. Simple. Dignified. Elegant. As long as there is Arlington, there will be America.

Pulling in we were momentarily amongst the tourists. And they were not interruption - they were purpose. I too have been on the outside looking in. Now, with roles reversed, I was thankful to see those throngs coming to learn and experience and teach. I saw more than one parent pull their child aside to point and whisper a lesson of our country. I saw many stop and put their hands over their heart as we passed; simple, dignified, elegant.

The day was early-Summer, Southern gem. Hot but not stifling. Blue sky with wispy white. And the cicadas? Strangely appropriate. For you in other parts of the country, they are big but gentle things. I doubt anyone who attended didn't have at least one land on them at some point in the day. And the sound? A distant jet on the runway waiting to take off. A constant whine. And it was good...nature carrying on. And Leonard would have been fascinated and investigating.

And the ceremony?

These words, my feelings, are insignificant to describe the wash of emotion in all of this.

As the hearse door opened I placed my hands upon my daughters shoulders...and I felt her shudder. MG Blount holding her to the left,
Charles to the right, her mother, her brother, and I to her rear. The
Cowherd's a part of the single family we've all become.

The Old Guard does not make mistakes. The wooden casket came off the hearse rails with precision and practiced timing.

There were 12 chairs under the small awning erected beside the grave site; just enough seats and space for immediate family. Sarah to the right-front in her black dress. Again, her mother and I found ourselves directly behind. My son to my right shoulder and the hundreds of family and friends closed in around us. It is hard to imagine intimacy in all of this, but it was there. There were quiet and peace in that little circle amidst the vast openness of Arlington.

Have you heard Amazing Grace on bag pipe? If that little bag of wind was put on earth for no other reason than to play this one song - it would still have a place amongst all the wonderful instruments the world has ever known. And the kilted-piper didn't end his song, he just turned and walked away...till the strains faded in the cicada whine.

The prayers offered by the family minister were perfect; a soldier's prayer born of powder, honor, and hope.

The 21 guns were three, crisp firings of seven. Again, the Old Guard does not make mistakes. However, a moment to speak of those guns. Like Leonard, I am a West Pointer. Like Leonard, I religiously counted guns whenever a dignitary arrived at school. 21 reports signified a visitor with enough importance to grant the Corps amnesty for all the various troubles and peccadilloes cadets seem to manage. West Point has a lot of visitors and a lot of cannon fire but rarely 21. 18 - "peon." 20 - "oh good Lord, another wanna be." and so on.

And on this day, on this sacred ground, 21 guns were fired to honor 2LT Cowherd.

Taps... An American will always struggle during Taps. While surely a
harbinger for many, it is our heroes we cry for. Not of sadness per se - of loss. How to measure against their lives? How to reconcile against their sacrifice? How to deal with what it takes to keep America? Simple, dignified, elegant...

The flag was creased, folded, and lovingly presented to my daughter.

She understands its meaning. It currently rests in an oak case with the Army seal. It will have a place of honor always. Leonard's mother and brother each received one as well.

Stand a little stiller during your next National Anthem. That song and that flag are paid for.

And my daughter?

Leonard's wife...my Kiddo. Leonard was her everything and she is his honor.

We all have our moments, Sarah more.

I'll offer historic perspective that seems most appropriate. Stephen Pressfield recreates the words of Greek king to the families of the 300 Spartans:

"When the battle is over, when the 300 have gone..., then will Greece look to the Spartans, to see how they bear it. But who ladies, who will the Spartans look to? To you. To you and the other wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of the fallen. If they behold your hearts riven with grief, they too will break. And Greece will break with them. But if you bear up, then Sparta will stand and all Greece will stand behind her. Why have I nominated your men and you to bear up beneath this most terrible of trials, you and your sisters of the three hundred? Because you can."

If these words ring true, then look to my daughter, Leonard's mother, my wife, and all the rest of the families' members. They are bearing up. America stands strong and proud. In Sarah's love, she has found an open heart for friends and a strength of belief that will carry her through.

Sarah's future is now at hand. I know there is a large community waiting to see... wanting proof in their faith that families are cared for. Believe. Army, VA, AER, TAPS, AFSC, Social Security and a bunch of other acronyms have checked into the net offering help both immediate and long-term. The years ahead are waiting and will write their own story. For now, no one could ask anything else.

To all of you that have been part of this thread - its been a way to keep you up to date and answer questions we know you have. I grabbed your names that first night because you needed to know or I knew you would want to know. Others have joined along the way as arrangements and details fell into place. As I tap these last words on this Memorial Day - I hope you haven't minded one man's view into what the day is all about.

Thank you for cards, and flowers, and prayers, and visits, and trips, and food, and errands, and arrangements, and condolences...and for holding our hand. You friends around the world have truly helped.

Our sails are filling with wind again and we'll all be back to work tomorrow. We know there will be awkward moments. Don't worry. Believe us...we understand. We'll all get through it. It's OK.

30

T
Tony Cerri

Now is the time at Castle Argghhh! when we dance. In Memoriam.