Posts Tagged ‘fallen soldier’

                For the second time in six weeks, we were escorted to 7th SFG Liberty Chapel. There was no casket this time but, rather, a small brass plated box on a podium with a propped-up rifle, dog tags, and Levi’s beret atop the barrel of the rifle. The box appeared to be 10×10” square and couldn’t have weighed as much as Levi did at birth: ten pounds, three and a half ounces.  

                The words spoken from the dais included adjectives such as meritorious, honorable, excellent, brilliant, conscientious, considerate, faithful, meticulous, valiant. Friendship, respect, and a deep sense of loss permeated the air. His soldiers called him “Dad” because he was, at age 34, like a father to them, always there, always with advice, always with an answer. Then came the bagpipes, and the Last Roll Call followed by a 21-gun salute: there was ugly crying.

                7th Group Special Forces (Airborne) treated us to a light lunch, beer, and soda. They patiently allowed small children to run amok in their meeting room. We took family photos. Three children were missing: their mother, our son’s ex-wife, refused to allow their children – the ones Levi raised and had custody of until his death – to attend the service. Four children were there who have no memory of Levi: his nephews and niece from Alaska. They were honored to be there to pay respect to the man their mother loved and grew up with.

                We loaded into the vans once again. There was a bus with soldiers and Patriot Guards on motorcycles. A small motorcade of vehicles left Eglin Air Force Base near Destin, Florida, to make the drive to Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola. I thought it odd that a funeral procession had no police escort.

That changed when we merged onto State Highway 85 northbound: The State Police had northbound 85 closed to all traffic so we could proceed unhindered. County Sheriff’s Departments then joined us, stopping traffic at every light and intersection, and clearing the lanes ahead of us. We would take all lesser highways, winding through all the small towns, a parade of flashing red and blue lights and sirens. Police officers got out of their cars blocking intersections and saluted as we passed by. Pedestrians removed their hats and salted. Traffic in the oncoming lanes, even when it was divided highway stopped. Some flashed their lights in respect. Some saluted. It took us two hours at an average speed of 35 miles per hour, multiple police agencies (county and city), and back roads until we wound through an older neighborhood of Pensacola and rolled into Barrancas National Cemetery.

                We joked that Levi would have loved stopping all that traffic and messing up the Friday afternoon commute.

           The last ceremony was graveside. F-18’s occasionally roared overhead as they took off from the Naval Air Station (Pensacola). Flags were folded and presented to the widow and the sister (Don and I had already received our flag and dispensed with that part of the ceremony by choice). Another 21-gun salute. Everyone left but the immediate family and small group of friends who came in the two vans. We drove to the plot where Levi’s ashes were interned, next to the spot where his widow’s, Erin’s, ashes will be interned when she joins him on their last long journey. It was hard to watch the gravedigger replace the sod, then rake it so that it looked undisturbed, leaving no sign that someone had just been buried there.

                We loaded into the vans one last time. Don, Arwen, and I rode in the children’s van with all the kids 12 and under. The kids were incredible, managing to hold it together the entire day. Levi’s six year old son clung to his father’s flag. Levi’s comrades, the other two E-7’s in his unit, were our drivers. We hugged, we laughed, we shared stories. At last, we reached our destination: Erin’s home.

                The rest is an alcoholic blur. We are family. Levi’s gamer friends, Levi’s in-laws, Levi’s brother and sister-in-law, the nieces, the nephews, the 7th Group soldiers who served with, over and under Levi. All the dogs: Bender (Levi’s favorite, the German Shepherd/Malinois cross), Daisy (the yellow lab foster), Trigger (the in-law dog), and Ash (the cat).

                Erin texted the family photos to Levi’s oldest son in Texas and he showed it to his two siblings. He texted back that they wept at not being able to be there. They are 12, 11, and 8 years old. They should have been there to see how beloved their father was, how influential he was, and how faithful he was. I hope they will come to understand how much of a man their father was: honorable, dependable, loving, and faithful. I hope they will know how much he loved them.

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