The view today was overwhelming. The skies were blue, the clouds were wispy, the sun was shining in such a way that you couldn’t help but smile. The little town of Cottleville looked as if it were created on a movie set for just such an event. Brick sidewalks were lined with park benches and street lights. A flower shop on the corner boasted blooming mums in every fall color and pumpkins were perched on hay bales. A winery, a fire station, and a large, brick church rounded the other corners of this main street intersection. A modern day Mayberry. Small town America at its finest, indeed.
Turning my back to the beautiful street scene, I turned my eyes and my attention to the crowd in front of me. I sat in the back row of chairs under a tent, surrounded by members of our community and proud, flag-bearing members of the Patriot Guard. The Postmaster General came to the podium and thanked us all for coming to the dedication of the Cottleville Post Office Building in honor of LCpl Phillip Vinnedge, KIA 13 October 2010. My husband reached over and took my hand in his. I held my breath for a moment, offering up a quick prayer of thanksgiving, and I felt my heart sigh. My view is so different in the back row.
On the front row, a mother and father sat among a mess of military and civilian dignitaries, flanked by large portraits of their fallen son. Their baby. Their 19 year old that believed in, fought for, and died for something bigger than himself. On the front row, a mother and father helped to unveil the placard that will permanently memorialize their son in the Post Office of his hometown. On the front row, a family remembered a piece of their heart that will never be returned.
My view was very different on the back row. As the various dignitaries spoke of LCpl Vinnedge’s patriotism, his courage, his dedication, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I sat in the back row of chairs. In July of 2005 I sat in the San Francisco Temple Christian Assembly and watched as another family mourned the loss of their 19 year old child. Their daughter. A graduate of the same high school I attended, this young woman died serving our country. Although I had never met her, I felt compelled to be there. With my husband serving our country a thousand miles away, I felt that it was my duty as an Army wife to be there. I dressed up our three small children and marched them into the back row of the large church. As we watched the celebration of this young soldier’s life, I held their little hands in mine, I held my breath for a moment, offered up a quick prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer for their father’s protection, and I felt my heart sigh. Yes, the view is so very different in the back row.
I’m not sure how many memorial services I have attended or how many more I will attend. As the threat of terrorism rises even within the borders of our own country, the price of freedom continues to be purchased with the blood of the brave. Sitting in the back row today, I watched countless Veterans snap to as the colors were presented. I watched old men who could barely walk stand to salute with wobbly arms on feeble legs. I sat next to a gentle, silver-haired woman who held the hand of her Korean War Veteran husband. I smiled at her. She smiled at me. We’re not so very different from each other.
Oh, and the sounds. The sounds! I listened as church bells rang in the distance during a moment of silence for the fallen. A surreal moment. I listened to commanding officers tell humorous stories of the fallen. I listened to sniffles and giggles and a raucous chorus of OO-RAHs from Marines that filled the assembly. I heard prayers offered up and gratitude displayed through clapping. I heard the somber notes of Taps bellow from a lone bugle. I’m pretty sure I heard the collective sigh of the hearts that filled that place. Then, as the colors were retired and the congregation was dismissed, a lone voice began singing The Marine Corp Hymn. A chorus of voices joined in and soon the tent was filled with a sea of Veterans pledging their continued devotion to the United States Marine Corp, the kind of devotion that causes a 19 year old boy to sacrifice his very life. Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful.
The view is so very different from the back row.