A pair of boots sit at the front of the room with a dog tag is woven into the laces; the gun propped in them has a beret balanced on top. It is a stark image that replaces the flag wrapped coffin that is awaiting transferal to the plane taking it home. The flowers, pictures, and podium fade into the background of the giant American flag that dresses this aircraft hangar and brings the focus back down to those boots and that gun.
I love my family and I love this land
But tonight this flight’s for another man
We do what we do because we heard the call
Some gave a little but he gave it all
Whenever we lose a member of our military family it hurts. Whether they die in combat, in a duty-related accident, in an off-duty accident, or due to self-inflicted injuries, it doesn’t matter, the loss of one hurts us all. You see it in the haunted eyes of the closest friends. You hear it in the choked up voice of the commander who cannot finish his sentences. You feel it in the constriction of your own chest and the tears threatening to burst forth; because you can’t help but see your own member in the same situation. And then you ache for the family, thousands upon thousands of miles away back home receiving the phone call that no one ever deserves to get.
Well the cockpit’s quiet and the stars are bright
Feels kinda like church in here tonight
It don’t matter where we touch down
On the Angel Flight it’s sacred ground
I felt lost in the sea of blue uniforms. Men and women, old and young, officer and enlisted, all in their service dress. Silver badges gleamed, marred by the black ribbon of mourning. Eyes were rimmed with red and tissues were passed by the handful and grabbed indiscriminately by those who needed them. As the friends mounted the stage to give eulogies and read scriptures, they paused in front of his picture to salute and remember. The final and closest friend just grabbed the picture at the end. And then the moment that belongs to the defender family alone. The Final Guard Mount. The flight mates of the fallen stand in front of their Sergeant. He calls their name and one at a time they answer him, Present Sir. And then the name of the fallen. Silence echoes in the room. Again the name of the fallen. The silence deepens as tears begin to fall. One last time the name of the fallen. In this moment of silence the Sergeant turns to the Commander and informs him that the fallen is no longer present. Taps plays and every one rises. They file out in silent ranks to the plane to stand watch as the coffin finds it resting place to journey home.
I fly that plane called the Angel Flight
Gotta hero riding with us tonight
Between Heaven and Earth you’re never alone
On the Angel Flight
Come on brother I’m taking you home
We sent off one of our own today. No one that I knew at all; but the death of one affects us all. It doesn’t matter your race, creed, religion, or political preference; it is always tragic to lose someone so young. We gave him a proper send off today in the way that only the military can. We’ve sent him home to his family to lay him to rest. Now all we have left to do is heal and remember.
*lyrics from Radney Foster’s Angel Flight*