All these old guys were wearing ballcaps. Vietnam vets. Every single one. Lapel pins were in evidence. Two guys were rolling up in wheelchairs. One more was missing an arm. Mixed in was family, along with a weeping young man in US Army dress with silver LT bars.
It started to hit me at that point, watching these old vets carry their brother the last ten feet from the hearse to the resting spot. Couldn't let it show. Gotta have that bearing. Cold as ice. Job's gotta get fucking done, and done right.
I don't remember the graveside eulogy. I just remember the sea of faces, a weeping young grandson in his army dress uniform- the Next of Kin- and a bunch of grim faced, teary eyed vets watching us.
My boys did good. Taps went perfect. Flag was folded to golden standards, the one-three-five star pattern sharp enough to cut. I took the flag, and knelt, and started the speech to that young Army LT.
"On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of appreciation for your grandfather's loyal and faithful service to his nation."
Flanked by men twice, three times his age, he clutched that flag while I stood to salute it. Perfect facing movement, and my detail marched away, towards our waiting vehicle.
We didn't get to leave yet. Every single person came over to thank us. From the gruff "Thanks, good work." from one guy to the rough embrace of a weeping officer, it hit. It fucking rattled. Christ. It rattles me thinking about that now. We treated it like it was a sterile detail, a job to get done.
And now all I see is eyes, hands, hear words echoing. Praise and thanks that I still feel like we didn't quite earn. I didn't serve along this tough old SSGT. I don't know why we earned a spot in his send off alongside an old crew of veterans and his own blood. I mean, I get why we were important to the ceremony, but I felt really fucking unworthy after that.
We stood there, generations of us, around our GOV for a while. I learned more about that brave SSGT than the papers in the car would ever tell. Guy was an Aerial gunner in 'nam, and helped medevac guys in the shit repeatedly. The guy with no arm said that the Helo crew saved his life.
Me and the boys bid them farewell, and the car ride back was silent. We went our separate ways, and I feel no shame for saying I came into my barracks room and wept. Fucking hell. It was never just a job after that. It was a brother or sister I never met. Part of my damn family that the reaper dared take. It was real, and from then on, it's never stopped.
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