Saturday, April 24, 2010

A soldier's passing


I never planned to be standing at the ending of my subdivision with my hand over my heart and tears streaming down my face. I planned to be camping with my son. Had he not awoken with a fever, had we not spent 45 minutes in the "Minute" Clinic, had we not picked up a dozen suddenly necessary items while we were in there, we would not have heard about it.

Had we not taken the route we did home, so we could stop by the pharmacy for his antibiotics, we wouldn't have seen them -- the scores of people standing on the side of the road, flags in hand, waiting, patiently for the procession to pass.

I had read the headline about the fallen soldier earlier in the week as I flipped through the newspaper to, more than likely, read Sound Off comments while I ate my cereal as I do most mornings. And, like most mornings, I was interrupted with the sounds of "Mom, can you please sign this? Have you seen my shoes? Can you pour me some more milk?"

And, like most mornings, I placed the newspaper with the headline about the fallen soldier on the stack of books, magazines and items for me to read later when I have some extra time, which never seems to arrive.

It wasn't until I got home and told my husband what I had seen, how people were lining up, that I learned the fallen soldier was a young man from our area. He was killed in Iraq. He was someone's son, and his funeral procession would pass right by our neighborhood. What could we do?

"Do we have any little flags?" My husband asked.

"We had some on the Fourth of July, but I think we threw them away after the parade."
I shook my head at what I had just said. Young men and women are fighting and dying for our right to throw flags away when we are finished waving them.

We walked, feverish son and all, to the corner and stood and waited and waited. We gave up, thinking we'd missed it, and walked back to our home. On the walk home, my husband told me how the soldier graduated from the West Point Military Academy, and how his parents did, too.
We got home but couldn't forget it. I heard a siren, and we ran down the street, only to wait and wait some more. We discussed the timeline where the procession might be and then made the walk back to our house, thinking once again we'd missed it.

But, we couldn't let it go -- a young man, someone's son, a soldier had died. We knew his name. We knew where he graduated. And we knew he did it for us, for our country. As I made my son lunch, I heard the sirens, lots of them. I ran outside in time to see the first patrol car pass. This time we didn't walk or run. We jumped into our truck, and my husband backed all the way down the street to the corner.

We got out, flagless, and placed our hands over our hearts. We saw our hero pass by, followed by hundreds of motorcycles with riders bearing flags. My husband told me what I had heard before but was proud and awe-struck to hear again. They are called Patriot Guard Riders. They travel to military funerals as invited guests. If people protest -- I can't bear the thought -- they shield them from the mourning family by riding alongside, quietly revving their motors.

To my amazement, the riders nodded to us, some waving low, one or two mouthing the words, "Thank you." I could not and still cannot fathom how they could possibly thank us. We couldn't even find a flag.

"Mom, why are they thanking us?" my son asked, his hand over his heart, his faced flushed.

As he spoke, I realized they weren't looking at my husband and me. They were looking at my son -- the little 8-year-old who had just over breakfast that morning innocently declared "War" as the theme for his birthday party. It was then that I broke down into tears and, despite my son's fever, was thankful the series of events had worked out like they did that day. We were exactly where we needed to be.

"To show their appreciation, son," I replied, as I put my arm on his shoulder and babied him for the rest of the afternoon.