previous post next post  

Memorial Day 2006 - The Funeral.

Continuing my Memorial Day series from yesterday.

Tony picks up the story:

All that follow is beside the point above and perhaps more for my sake than yours. However, I know friends have questions and I'll try to answer as best I can. I'll move on to what I'm sure is the number one question on your mind - how was the memorial in Culpeper?

I can't really explain this weekend without explaining a little about Culpeper. This is a place that still has a thriving Main Street. This is a place where banks still occupy Main Street corners with big stone buildings. This is a place where the magnolias are taller than the houses they shade.

A.P Hill is a local boy done good and very much alive in conversation and pride. Hooker, Stewart, and Davis are contemporaries that inspire with their prowess and ideals of loyalty and devotion to higher calling.

Main Street on Friday night is packed with cars...because that's what you do in a town like Culpeper on Friday night. It's a place where you stop your car in the middle of a country lane to help a turtle across the road and the 30ish lady behind you rolls down her window to tell you thanks. BTW - Yes I did and yes she did.

It's a place where the owners and workers of floral shops, bed and breakfasts, hotels, funeral homes, media recognize values and heroes. It's a place where a Virgie Atkins comes out from behind the counter to give your wife a hug and sit through some sobs with her.

Everybody knows everyone and family reputation is borne as a matter of honor through the generations. It's a place two 9/11 flight attendants called home; a home with the values of the vast majority of the American land mass. The limos taking us to the church didn't fly funeral flags - they flew American flags. People noted and took as a good sign a hawk circling the steeple.

The ceremony was a town event; hero falls in battle. The mayor (ex-Special Forces) had American flags lining Main Street a la Fourth of July. The Governor had the state flag at half mast for the week. People just flat bent over backwards to honor Leonard's name and his country's cause and his service.

I really don't know how many hundred people attended but the local paper's Saturday morning edition headline described the preparations...and the fact that they really weren't sure if the plan to run sound and video to the outside tents was going to work.

The rest is in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry. Part 3, the Burial, is here.

The afternoon was Southern-heat still but many attended the almost two-hour Episcopal ceremony standing in tents under the church's massive shade trees... as attendants offered bottled ice water. These men and women were in addition to the full church and congregation hall. I know I speak for the Cowherd's and the Cerri's all when I say the support at the ceremony was truly infectious.

This was tragedy and celebration writ large for those who knew Leonard - child to man, West Point Cadet to Armor Platoon Leader, single to married.

The minister and speakers distinguished themselves with moving acknowledgment of Leonard the man, the officer, the brother, and... the husband.

Military senior was General (Ret) McCaffrey and his remarks would have made Leonard happy. However, perhaps most significant were two 82nd Airborne PFC's in attendance. No one knew them and they left before we could talk to them - they just attended. There were dozens of Lieutenant's in attendance; from Korea, and Colorado, and Italy, and New Mexico, and Alabama, and North Carolina, and Georgia, and Kansas, and Texas, and Florida, and other points around the US and the world. The West Point and Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership Corps' alumni were present en masse.

And it was a righteous salve. Acceptance, pride, and promise filled us all as we departed the church.

And afterward? Well, the Lieutenants, and the Cowherd's, and the Cerri's
and et al went to a pub in downtown Culpeper. Amidst the open beams, the cigarette smell, and the dim lighting two guys with electrified acoustic guitars played songs like Tennessee Waltz, and Take Me Home to West Virginia and Whiskey for My Men and Beer for My Horses. We drank, and talked, and laughed, and yes - even danced a little. If you don't understand, what can I say.... We were there to tell Leonard-stories and family-stories and military-stories. And we cried and held each other when the need arose. And I looked those family members and Lieutenants in the eye and saw our nation's future - selfless, capable, proud, and determined.

And how is Sarah?

It is difficult to believe this is my daughter. 'Grace under fire' is a tired old cliché but I now certainly know its meaning. One of her VWIL buds paid her a compliment today that I hope you'll understand even a little as it says so much. She said, "Sarah, you are certainly a Mary Baldwin girl." Sarah has uncertain times ahead but this young woman, this warriors-wife has acted with a dignity and purpose that is surely based on love. She leaned back on my chest today during the viewing and whispered through her tears,

"Dad, I'm so proud of Leonard."

And one can't talk of Sarah without talking of Leonard's twin - Charles.

He is Sarah's strength and I think vice versa as well. The two of them have
brought us to a point where laughter is OK again. His memorial service remark about missing 'twin time' was telling but well balanced by not having to worry about Leonard. He, like the rest of us, is moving on.

And the Cerri's and the Cowherd's?

Frankly - beat. Thank God for sleep; the great elixir of life. Each day gets a little better. We have miles to go in this run but we know we're not alone and we're getting the hang of it. We are OK. Everyone has their own moments but mine happened when one of Leonard's friends slipped a CD in the funeral home's sound system today. Had two songs - The West Point Alma Mater and The Corps. Suddenly, there were thousands and thousands of the Long Grey Line filling that room. Generations of soldiers and leaders were striving to encourage and support. Those songs were written for and about Leonard.

A final observation and I'll be done. 5 hours ago it had been a week since that notification team walked down our path. Today was the most emotional since it was the day chosen for close family to actually visit with Leonard. As Beth and I were headed to the funeral home I stopped in a 7-11 for some water. Standing at the check out line I saw a picture that froze me in my tracks; three helmet-topped M16s with a soldier saluting. In this week, in this time - that picture could only come from one place on earth and for one thing only; it was the military memorial held by Leonard's unit. So many emotions ran through me. Those services are unlike anything else. Even now I'm getting a little empty space as I imagine what the Roll Call sounded like... If you've participated, you understand. If you haven't, imagine the simplest and most dignified ceremony specifically designed for soldiers to honor their fallen. It can be done anywhere but where ever it's done takes on the feel of Saint Patrick's Cathedral.


I'd told the Cowherd family that this tradition would be upheld and now I had graphic proof. Point in passing, courtesy of a phone call from BG Hertling, the 1st AD ADC, tonight I know that this memorial in Iraq was on going within hours of the Culpeper service and that it had been attended by near a thousand. A young Specialist had spoken about 'his' Lieutenant. Imagine that Specialist's moxie and caring to address those hundreds of soldiers and you understand the honor this was for Sarah and Leonard's parents.

I looked closer and saw the picture was on the front page of the NY Times. This wasn't the Culpeper daily or the Richmond times. This was one of the most respected, global newspapers on earth. Hmm... I picked up a copy and read it. I found quotes by Leonard's Battalion Commander describing the action wherein Leonard had been killed and the completion of that action in a satisfying manner. I tucked a copy under my arm and checked out.

Viewings can be rough and this one was against my better judgment but Sarah can be hard headed... and was right. My daughter's final moments with the husband she hadn't seen in 5 months and with whom she'd only lived for 5 months ended sweet. She and Leonard's mother and Leonard's twin brother and all the rest of the extended families stayed long enough to get through all the emotions. Sarah, the Cowherd's and Beth and I were all truly the better for this final visit. But what about the NY Times?

About half-way through the viewing I went out to the car and brought the paper in. There, in that room, with Leonard with us, we made a connection with not only his unit and their actions but with the entire world. We were one. There was closure. Information from the war zone to a funeral home in rural VA and shared around the world. The story about the fight was just as important, if not more so, than the picture itself. I could physically see the Cowherd's relax just a little bit.

And as this first week was drawing to a close, one of Leonard's closest West Point friends came up to Mr. Cowherd and said, "Leonard will always be a hero." And so he will...

Tony Cerri

Leonard will be buried on Wednesday at 1100 at Arlington National

They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them . .
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them!
-- Lawrence Binyon


5 Trackbacks

TrackBack this entry at

Remember from Techography on May 27, 2006 8:52 AM

It's not about the beer. Its not about the lake. It's not about the time off from work. Or then again maybe it is. Maybe, thats what they died for. So the rest of us can do those things, in celebration, in peace, in thought. But never forget. Alwa... Read More

As you enjoy the long weekend with family, cookouts, and beer….take time to remember what the Holiday stands for. Take some time to honor those that have fallen for our freedom. Here at Stop The ACLU we are urging you to get involved to save t... Read More

MBRI's have been a growing, and important, community of the Blogosphere since the Liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq began, and it's important, this Memorial Day, that I finally add a Blogroll of them to the sidebar. This Memorial Weekend post Read More

The pictures are from the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. I stopped by to say a short prayer and shed a few tears on my way home from my last VA appointment. I heard Taps and rifle salutes Read More


"...No one knew them and they left before we could talk to them - they just attended." (Jtg spills beer on purpoise)
Some things are so timeless. This could be 1970 in the little city of Bellevue, Nebraska where two young men who were killed the same day in Vietnam were laid to rest in the same cemetery. Now I will carry Leonard with me too. Semper Fi
God bless......God speed.....Thank You
John. Great series. Thanks. I have performed this duty of Casualty Notification. I have trained others to do the same. It is always emotional, always stressfull, and in the end, always Honorable. See Preparing for Memorial Day 2006. Thank you, again.
Incredible. I am looking forward to the next part. God bless them all. (I tried, once again, to t/b to you but failed miserably...
Permit me to follow on this fine post by directing your readers to this: Here are some old photos from the Rally For America, back in March 2003 in Atlanta. It was a big demo in Centennial Park to show support for the troops. Click on 'em for the larger versions. These are all I'll have time to post before I go away for the weekend. Everyone have a good holiday!
Keo Gathman: Sgt. Calvin Allen's funeral is at 1600, Sunday, 28 May at the church at the intersection of 25th and Capehart in Bellevue, Nebraska.