TITLE: Uncle John
By David F. Palmieri Sr.
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Just wanted to share it.
Slowly, as if it was made of tear soaked rice paper; they lifted the flag from the coffin. Their every move more reverent than the last. The overhead lights reflected off their uniforms and somehow seemed to amplify the intensity of their duty. Each deliberate movement of these two Honor Guard soldiers expressed the discipline and training that led them to this moment, the funeral of a disabled World War II veteran, a brother, a fellow warrior.
The folding of the flag, in preparation of giving it to the widow, resembled a slow motion, instant replay, all too familiar in today’s high tech world of television. The silence in the room was deafening. The presentation of the flag was like a loud Amen, at the end of a silent symphony.
I didn’t know Uncle John very well. He never did talk much, and our families weren’t as close as we probably should have been. From my earliest memories of his missing arm, I’ve often wondered about him, but was afraid to ask. And as of tonight, the night of his funeral, I still don’t know his story.
What I do know is the pride I felt as Aunt Mary was handed that flag in the name of the President and the people of the United States of America. I never knew the pain he suffered at the time of, and in the years following his injury. I never thought we had anything in common other than his marriage to my dad’s sister. There were no fond childhood memories of good times together. There were only memories of Uncle John nodding and smiling at whatever discussion was going on around him. In his latter years, after his stroke, he said even less. We shared a couple of family picnics together recently, but that’s about the extent of our relationship.
That all changed as they played Taps in the chapel at the veterans cemetery today. The feeling that this ex-serviceman feels, when I see that flag, flooded over me. Unkle John was also my brother, my fellow warrior. We served the same country; we served the same flag. We have a lot more in common than I ever could have imagined. He fought and suffered so that we could sit in this chapel and worship as we please; so that my grandchildren could visit Disneyland with my wife and I.
No, he didn’t die in battle, but I’m sure the memories he’s carried of that day are a burden greater than I would choose to carry.
If you don’t get a lump in your throat when you look at our flag or when you hear Taps played at a military funeral, you’ll never understand what I’m trying to say in this story. But, if you do, then you might understand how today, I got to know my Uncle John.
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