I just got back from PFC. John Frances Landry Junior's funeral. It was ironic how yesterday was cold and rainy for his wake, yet today the sun was out and the birds were chirping. I guess the weather is fitting since his family would prefer to have it be called a celebration of his life. I thought the wake was bad enough but the funeral was a hundred times more emotional. Even though I was there with Mel, Jess, and Chris, I somehow got separated from Mel in the procession. I wound up walking with Jess and Melissa, Jose's girlfriend. It was just heart wrenching!
The mass was in this tiny white church that looked like something out of a picture postcard. From the church we walked the mile and a half to the cemetery for the burial. The casket was on a funeral carriage pulled by a solitary black horse, draped with the American flag. Walking next to the carriage were four young men in their finest military dress uniforms.
As we walked, every student still attending Lowell Catholic High School, all 281 of them, stood on either side of the road on the sidewalk; with an American flag in one hand and their other hand draped over their heart. Further up along the processional route we walked by a public elementary school and sure enough every student in that school was out there doing the same.
The fire department had their ladder trucks out with the huge American flag across both trucks for the procession to walk under, as well as every firemen standing outside, saluting as the casket went by.
Police officers, veterans, UPS delivery guys and retired veterans all did the same. The freedom riders were there in full force, over a hundred of them paying their respects.
The most amazing thing of all was that we were walking down a main street, in a big town and the only thing you heard was the clip clop of the horse's hoofs hitting the pavement.
The silent reverence was incredible!
The grave side ceremony at the cemetery was just as emotional. The 21 gun salute, the horse without a rider, and taps echoing throughout the early spring day was an emotional send off for a great kid, and a brave soldier.
For me, being part of the State Guard color and honor guard, the most emotional part was when a general took the flag from the two honor guards and knelt before John's mother to give her the flag that had accompanied his body home. He expressed his gratitude from this nation for John's sacrifice.
It was the one time in my life that the soldier in me got meshed up with the mother part and I thought my heart was going to break. As proud as I would have been for my son's bravery and service, his loss would have been more than I could have bared.
I looked at John's mom and dad and could only say a silent pray on their behalf that they would have the strength to endure this trial together as a family.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, I walked over to the grave site with Joe and said our final good-byes. Joe stepped back and saluted John one final time. As Joe and I walked towards the curve I stopped him for a moment.
I had a St. Michael's medal around my neck that had served me well for a long time as a police officer and a soldier. It had been a gift from my son Alex. I am a very sentimental person and loved this gift with all my heart, not only because it was from Alex, but because it was a constant reminder of his love and how important it was for me to stay safe and go home at the end of the day.
I had debated my decision for a long time, but now I looked Joe in the eyes.
"Joe". I said as I took the medal from around my neck, "This medal has kept me protected for a long time, and even though I am not Catholic, it was the good thoughts and prayers from the person that gave it to me that I felt did the trick. Now I want you to have it. It was given to me by Alex and just like he took you under his wing went you were a freshman, I now pray that God and his angels will take you under wing and keep you safe."
"Are you sure?" Joe asked becoming a little emotional.
"Absolutely", I replied as I placed the medal around his neck and tucked it inside his shirt along with his dog tags.
Joe looked at me for a moment and I just hugged him. I broke the hug and gave him the "oahhh", which simply meant you understand and he replied the same. He snapped to attention and gave me a totally out of regulation salute since I wasn't in uniform, but a greater sign of respect doesn't exist among soldiers.
I broke regulation by saluting back and with that we said good-bye.
I know that in theory a little piece of metal around someone's neck can't keep evil, injury or even death away. If it was that easy no one would ever suffer and events like these would never have to happen.
What I do believe is that the positive thoughts, wishes and prayers can't hurt. I also feel a little better knowing that there is a little bit of Alex's and my love and affection with Joe no matter where ever his call to duty might take him.
I once got an e mail from someone showing a funeral procession for a fallen soldier in Texas. The writer commented how totally patriotic Texans were, but the reality is that it's not Texans that are patriotic, its most Americans in general.
I have never been more proud of today's youth, my neighbors and my fellow Americans as I was today.
For all the negative talk in the news about the demise of our youth, I really feel that with fine young men like John and Joe, and the kids I interact with day in and day out, this country has nothing to worry about. As I had said before I feel it will be left in very good hands.
Go gently into the good night and fear not dear soldier for you have been called home after a great and noble effort.
Ooaaahhh and God bless.