Wednesday, September 28, 2005

All Our Fallen Heroes

I wish I were a better writer, good enough to depict Michael's funeral in some kind of coherent, moving narrative. Or, at least, not so lazy a writer. Right now, though, I think the most I'm capable of is a series of glimpses and impressions.

-- My previous experience with military funerals consisted entirely of those in movies and on television. I knew what to expect, but none of the images stored in my head, the ones that seemed like a cliché because I'd seen them so many times, compare to witnessing them, for someone I've known my whole life. It was all there: the mournful bagpipes, the precision of the honor guard, the presentation of medals (the Bronze Star and Purple Heart), the 21-gun salute, the ritualized folding of the American flag and presentation to the fallen hero's widow, taps played by a trumpeter unseen in the distance. But in person? My God. To say it was heartbreaking barely scratches the surface. I felt the crack of the rifles deep within my chest. I stood in amazement at the solemnity and dignity with which the soldiers honored Michael.

-- This was the first funeral I've attended at which the mourners faced a row of television cameras upon exiting the church. What an odd sensation. I don't know how Michael's family felt about all the inevitable media attention, about the public scrutiny of their grief. Here is an article about the funeral. I think the photograph of Maria, Michael's wife, and of Tony, his brother (at the bottom right of the photograph, seated) at the cemetery captures all the sorrow more than any words could.

-- I've dismissed the cynical portion of my brain for the time being so that I can merely appreciate (and not dissect) the fact that several elected officials attended Michael's viewing -- a New Jersey state senator and a U.S. senator, the governor of Delaware. They didn't call attention to themselves in any way and did seem deeply respectful.

-- Michael is buried in the same row of the same cemetery as my father, my grandparents, his father, and his brother. Only a few graves separate our family from his. During the services at the cemetery, I glanced at the ground and saw that I was standing right next to my father's headstone.

Michael truly believed in his mission in Iraq; regardless of my feelings about the war, I will always honor his memory and his great, terrible sacrifice.