Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: RAIN (04/18/19)
TITLE: The Final Salute
By Robin Newberger
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It was raining so hard, in fact, that the National Cemetery called the mortuary to confirm that we were coming. It was understandable. My father was to have a military funeral with full honors. I had never heard of postponing a funeral, but how I wish I could have postponed his passing. The heavy, unyielding rain was my voice, speaking to the world, not in words but in metaphor, declaring my grief. I would have resented the sun had it decided to shine that day.
We entered the iron gates of the cemetery, following behind the white hearse making its slow, ceremonious advance to the committal shelter where my father’s service would be performed. The expansive grounds of this sacred place spread out before us, around us, and then behind us as we traveled further and further away from the gate, a single path now branching out into a network of arteries revealing a sea of flush grave markers.
Our caravan continued on, up and over the gentle sloping hills of the memorial park. I did not expect to see him there, the lone soldier standing off in the distance ahead of our caravan. Stationed on a hill, he stood facing in the direction of the hearse carrying my father’s casket. The scene took my breath away. Stoic, he stood, his right hand held at his forehead in a firm salute. He was soaking wet from head to toe, unprotected by the relentless rain. His gaze locked resolutely on his subject, he pivoted on his heel quarter turn by quarter turn, following the path of the decorated World War II veteran deserving of his respect. I looked back at him as our car passed over the hill from where he stood, his presence electric, saying so much more than words ever could, bound by honor.
The Honor Guard stood at the ready as we gathered, only four in number, under the committal shelter.
The gentleman, who I supposed to be the senior person in the Honor Guard, an army veteran, expressed his condolences. The signal was given for the 3-gun salute. The first volley of rifle fire rang out into the frigid, misty air. Duty. Then the second. Honor. And the last. Country. I sat on the hard, cement bench, looking down at my hands, the gloves I had on of little warmth. The cold in my bones could not equal what was in my heart. Joining in with the even pounding of rainfall, the lonely yet comforting sound of “Taps” filled the air, punctuating the somber occasion.
The two-man Honor Guard removed the American flag that was draped over my father’s powder blue casket, folding it meticulously into a triangle, the three spent shell casings reverently tucked into the thirteenth and final fold. The man turned to face me, his charcoal-grey overcoat covered in beadlets of rain, his cap protected by a clear plastic bonnet. He, too, appeared unfazed by Mother Nature, motivated solely by a right sense of duty. With white-gloved hands, he presented me with my father’s flag on behalf of a grateful Nation.
The service over, I walked out into the misty cold. I picked up a red carnation that laid on the ground and held it as I watched them return my father’s casket to the hearse. This was the final goodbye that I was not prepared for. The caretaker, a tall, strong-looking man, turned around to face me as he closed the rear doors of the hearse. He didn’t say a word. He nodded once, a silent assurance. I turned and walked away.
And with that, the promises of Scripture assuaged my broken heart, a balm of Gilead: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Eph. 5:14 (NKJV)
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