Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Greatest Sacrifice

Today, as we honor all those who have ever served in the United States military, we must remember with grateful hearts the young men and women who do not make it back home. We must especially honor and support their families, because their loved ones’ sacrifices are too hard to bear alone. Regrettably, there is very little public acknowledgement of soldiers who are killed in the line of duty.

This became all too clear to me while waiting for my flight at Dallas/Fort Worth airport. For about an hour, I sat next to a woman from Seattle who had just buried her 26-year-old son at Arlington Cemetery on Wednesday, November 7. He had served nine years with the Army and was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on October 27.

She shared with me her heartbreaking journey of the past week. She explained how her son's casket had been flown from Afghanistan to Fort Hood, Texas, which was where he had been stationed. She hadn’t realized that the military is not responsible for the arrangements or the cost of transporting our fallen heroes to Arlington. Fortunately, she received amazing service from Southwest Airlines, which treated her son with great respect and only charged her $99 to transport him.

Overwrought with emotion, this bereaved mother could not bring herself to fly with her son to Arlington. So it was arranged for her nephew, a Marine, to accompany his cousin. Since these young men served in different military branches, the nephew had to get permission to oversee the transportation of his cousin's body. Southwest Airlines put him in First Class in appreciation for his service and special role.  He never lost sight of his cousin, from being placed into the plane to being laid to rest in Arlington.

The mother and her sister made the long journey from Texas to Virginia by road. At its end, she faced the reality of saying goodbye to the middle son of three, who was married and left behind a 6-year-old daughter and adopted son a few years older.

She said the ceremony was quite moving, with the color guard and other vets standing at attention. She became unnerved though, during the 21-gun salute. After the service, she asked her sister to take her to the nearest bar, so she could try to calm down with a drink or two. Her sister was quite surprised by her request since she is not one to drink, but the experience of burying her son, a soldier, was more than she could bear.

It turns out that her son comes from a long line of family members who have served in the U.S. military going back to the Civil War. Her grandfather served in WWII. Her father was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war and was laid to rest in Arlington two years ago. She herself served in the Navy for 11 years and is also a four-year survivor of breast cancer. When she mentioned this she showed me the pink ribbon tattooed on her wrist, which her three sons also gotten to support her.

Speaking both as a veteran and mother of a son who gave his life in service to our nation, she spoke her wish that all the deployed sons/daughters, husband/wives and sisters/brothers will soon return safely. She shared that over 100 soldiers are buried at Arlington each week, Monday through Friday. These young people sacrificed their lives for our nation, and yet the major media outlets fail to acknowledge them.

As they called us to board the plane, she showed me her black ribbon with the U.S. flag and picture of her son. We said our farewells and wished each other a safe journey to our respective destinations. I can say I was humbled to sit by this courageous woman and expressed my gratitude for her entire family's service and sacrifice. It was a privilege to provide her some comfort and support by simply listening to her story of pain and anguish over losing her beloved,very handsome son. Also, to honor his memory and how his light brightened the lives of the people around him. But most importantly, to acknowledge that he had made the greatest sacrifice for our nation which should not be forgotten.

This was a Veterans Day that I will never forget. Thank you to all those who have served and died for our freedoms! This is my tribute to all of our fallen heroes whose stars forever shine.

No comments: