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Empty chairs

Many warriors stepped into the light this week.  Let's start with two in Afghanistan, as related by Heartless Libertarian, who was there:

You want to see a soldier break down? Play Taps. Amazing Grace on the pipes will achieve a similar effect. And even though Taps is an American song, it works on soldiers of other nations - Aussies, Brits, Poles, Germans, French - just as well.

The memorial service for two soldiers from IJC who were killed in the 18 May car bombing in Kabul was held Friday. They used the biggest seating area available - the main TV viewing area in the MWR tent, which I'm pretty sure was set up in anticipation of watching this summer's World Cup games - and it was packed, every seat filled, troops packed in standing around the sides and back, with another 40 or so watching from the upstairs area behind the stage.

As military memorial ceremonies go, it was pretty standard. Maybe I haven't been to enough of these (for which I am thankful, because it means that very few troops from my actual unit have died), but what really struck me, and huge difference between any civilian memorial service I've ever attended, is paying respects at the end.

The formal part of the service lasted about 30 minutes. Then, for a bit over an hour, troops stood in line to pay their respects: walk up to the display of empty boots in front of a rifle, helmet, and dog tags, salute, perhaps touch the dog tags or helmets, or kneel and say a short prayer, a final salute, left face, and depart. By the end, a collection of patches - flags of many nations represented here - Turkey, Spain, Germany, Poland, Australia, the US - along with unit and rank patches - covered the table in front of the two pictures.

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me an article from the Stanford University FarmReport about some seminars dubbed 'Military 101' that had been started by students in the university's government school, to help them 'understand' the military, and the military mindset.

Watching the troops slowly and silently paying their last respects to our fallen comrades, it struck me that no academic seminar, no amount of description or study, can really let someone who has never been in the military ever fully 'understand.' Honestly, I don't think understand is really the right word, but my vocabulary can't come up with a better one. Maybe Robert Heinlein's term grok. But how do you explain to students who have never been in the military, and who most likely don't know anyone who has ever been in the military, why soldiers would wait quietly for an hour to simply salute the memory of someone they may never have met, couldn't pick out of a crowd, and who couldn't even speak their native language, but whom nonetheless were comrades in every sense of the word?

I can't put it into words, except to say that I know it was the good and right thing to do, and what I expected of myself; and I was there.

................................
"Sar' Major, sound the roll!"

"Ramsey!"

"Here Sar' Major!"

"Schmidt!"

"Here Sar' Major!"

"Tieman!"

"Staff Sergeant Tieman!"

"Staff Sergeant Richard J. Tieman!"

"Killed in action, Sergeant Major."


"Tomlinson!"

"Specialist Tomlinson!"

"Specialist Joshua A. Tomlinson!"

"Killed in action, Sergeant Major."
 
Then we note the passing of Henry Bachus Sr, the "Candy Bomber:"

Harry Bachus Sr., who died this week, was one of many who answered the call when the Pearl Harbor attack plunged the nation into war in December 1941. He would sacrifice as many did, leaving home and loved ones for war. But his sacrifice went further. Because Bachus also spent 10 months in German captivity.

But he also bombarded his former captors with literal sweetness, returning to Germany a few years later to drop candy for the children of West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1949.

He felt an obligation to duty, said those who loved him. But many of his generation felt the same, as across the country, young men dropped classes, dropped relationships, dropped everything to sign up with Uncle Sam and ship off to a foreign land.

They signed up by the thousands — Bachus leaving Auburn University to become an Army Air Forces pilot — to join the fight.
 
H/t,Toluca Nole.

Lastly, today's Marines pay back a service paid to old Marines.

In the bloodiest days of Iwo Jima, he spoke the last words over fallen Marines and Navy corpsmen as they were buried in the island’s black sand.

Yesterday, Marines, sailors and soldiers returned the favor to the late Rev. E. Gage Hotaling of Agawam, sending the old Navy chaplain on to join his comrades with military honors.

Hotaling, 94, died Sunday in a Springfield hospital, 65 years after the iconic battle for the Pacific island. In a 2007 documentary, he talked about the grim task he faced as Marines fell in bitter combat against the dug-in Japanese enemy. Of the 6,821 Americans killed, Hotaling believed he buried about 1,800.

“We would have four Marines with a flag over each grave. And while they were kneeling with the flag, I would stand up and I would give the committal words for each one,” he told the filmmakers.

He said he took up smoking to overcome the stench of decay.

“I did it not as a Protestant, Catholic or a Jew, but as a Marine,” the Baptist minister said. “Every man was buried as a Marine. And so I gave the same committal to each one.”
Jules Crittenden has more.


Now is the time at Castle Argghhh! when we dance: In Memoriam of Staff Sergeant Richard Tieman, Specialist Joshua Tomlinson, Henry Bachus Sr, and Chaplain Hotaling.  Make way! Make way!  Four warriors inbound to Fiddler's Green (though Chaplain Hotaling may not stay long, and head back *up* the road), but I'm sure he'll check in on his Marines.

9 Comments

You're right about Taps.  My husband spent six months on funeral duty stateside during Vietnam, and to this day he can't listen to Taps without tearing up.  Or Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, and that one gets me too.   
 
One piece I left off the end:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
 
For all that is written about the hearltess soldier who kicks in doors and leaves chaos and meyhem in their wake, little is written about the fact that each and every one of them wears their heart on their sleeve when it comes to their brothers and sisters in harms way and those who can not protect themselves from the evil that is all to prevelent today.

If it was not for the fact that the other half would kill me, I would be willing to bet my next year's worth of drill pay that if you asked any service member if they could choose how they would want to go out of this world, the vast majority would say something about a pile of empty magazines, a broken bayonet, and a building of innocent women and children who did not come to harm because they were there to stop evil in its tracks.
 
Um, Jon - if I have a choice, then I'll die in bed.

If I don't have a choice - bring on the bad guys.
 
John,
As always, I have to defer to your superior way of clarifying what I meant to say.

Long days at work dealing with stupid people in large groups sucks and makes you get stupid as well.
 
About a month ago, my cousin Dennis (Navy, submariner) finally lost his battle with MS. We drove up for the funeral, met a bunch of his friends and family, people from the organisations he'd helped, had a nice service. The VFW provided a rifle squad. The silence between the rounds is so ... loud. I was doing fine until the bugle started. Tears. Looking about, I noticed that I wasn't the only one. We band of brothers ....
 
A bit of a high jack, but somewhat on topic:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G10T_Ih222E&feature=player_embedded

No longer in uniform, but still on duty protecting their comrads in arma and our Republic.


 
I spent the weekend at LZ Lambeau, (LZLambeau.org) an event to finally welcome home our Viet Nam Vets.  At the Sunday service a lone piper played Amazing Grace; goose bumps and tears.
 

Taps does bring a tear to the eye.  So does the presentation of the flag.