by Me’Shae Brooks-Rolling, IVMF Director of Events and Conferences
The location was Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, NY. The casket was draped with a flag. A bugle played solemnly. Two smartly-dressed cadets stood attention at the head and foot of casket. They lifted the flag, folding it very carefully with intense respect and creasing its edges. They got on one knee, presented the flag to the head of the family, and softly spoke these words:
“On behalf of the President of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation.”
I was impressed that these cadets had the authority to speak on behalf of the POTUS, but what I especially noted is that they took their time. “America the Beautiful” played on the bugle during the recessional as family and friends placed roses on the casket.
This describes not one, but two funerals I attended in the span of less than one year. That of my husband’s two uncles from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Edward Lawrence’s sunset was November 2012 and–missing his younger brother even at the age of 85 years old–Arthur Lawrence’s sunset was only eight months later in July 2013. Both were the patriarchs of their families.
Uncle Eddie and his younger brother, Arthur aka Uncle Sonny, were inseparable their entire lives. They resided in the same large tri-level family home their mother purchased way before gentrification saturated Brooklyn in the 1990s. Uncle Eddy resided upstairs and Uncle Sonny and his family lived downstairs, which is also typical of families with Caribbean roots. I resided right next door to them during my early married life in the 1990s and the early part of the millennium, so I loved and knew them well as if they were my own blood uncles.
Uncle Eddie was extroverted and vivacious. You knew he was in the room. Uncle Sonny was gentle and quiet.
In both cases, what I didn’t know is they were both military veterans until I read their obituaries.
They simply didn’t discuss it while they were alive and I’m sure they would have shared if asked, but I didn’t know to ask. I wasn’t at IVMF at the time to even think to know to ask.
Colleagues at my job who are familiar with the symbolism saw the medallion on Uncle Eddie’s cap from the obituary. Turns out, both brothers were paratroopers in the Korean War. Once I truly understood what a paratrooper was, I could easily envision Uncle Eddie committing such a feat. Even though I still trying to visualize introverted Uncle Sonny doing the same thing, I am amazed at their sheer bravery.
What’s the take-away from a civilian point-of-view, besides the fact that both funerals were on a Monday because Calverton is closed Sundays?
Prior to IVMF, I worked at the Burton Blatt Institute, a disability research institute at Syracuse University. BBI opened my eyes to “see”—really “see” persons with disabilities. For me, it is the same with veterans. This goes way beyond a federal holiday day off from work. Veterans can’t take a day off when serving our country. Some of these veterans have disabilities, even though their condition may not be visible to the eye. Some may even be homeless, which is unfathomable.
If you hear an airline representative call military members priority boarding, or if you see someone in military uniform, thank them for service to our country and for freedom and liberties that you and I are able to enjoy while they’re still alive.
Here is the citation of Military Funeral Honors for each branch of service:
On behalf of the President of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation.
On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and Corps.
On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy
On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of [Service member’s rank and name]. (Note: If the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief, add: “God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.”)
On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to Country and the Coast Guard.
May the valiant souls of the departed rest in peace.