This was sent to me by a reliable source, who received it from the author. Because it is "signed," I believe it to be real. But even if it is not, no matter. The point is made!
June 30, 2009
I wanted to share something that just happened tonight.
I was sitting at the gate in the Washington-Baltimore airport waiting on my flight to Charlotte.
The plane was at the gate.
While we were waiting for the attendant to announce the boarding for our flight, I saw about a dozen Transportation Security Agency uniformed personnel head to the departure ramp. I was concerned there was a problem, meaning a delay. Just what I needed!
Several of us moved to the observation window to see if we could see anything going on outside.
That is when I saw a lone uniformed Marine standing at the bottom of the ramp leading from the cargo hold of the aircraft to the ground. I thought to myself how this small delay for me was nothing compared to the sacrifice a Marine and his family made for our nation.
There were more and more people gathering to see what we were looking at down on the tarmac. The people were quiet, but not silent. I looked down the concourse and saw other small groups gathered close to the other observation windows looking down at the conveyor and the small detail of Marines that had appeared. They were part of the funeral detail or an Honor Guard. In the distance there was a hearse, another vehicle, and a police car. As they drove to the bottom of the ramp, I knew the remains of a Marine, in a flag draped casket, were about to be moved from the aircraft and into the hearse. It is customary for uniformed members of the armed services to salute any American flag as it passes...especially when it is covering the remains of one of our fallen warriors.
The people standing around me were mostly civilians, but I could tell they wanted to be respectful, they just did not know how. I had no idea if that Marine's family was down below in one of the vehicles. I couldn't have the family, or those Marines, look up and see a bunch of people standing from above...staring.
When I saw the pall bearers (Marines) move to the bottom of the ramp, I had to do something.
It has been four years since I retired from the Army, but duty called.
I turned and faced everyone in the terminal, and in my loudest command voice, I told everyone the remains of a Marine were about to be unloaded from the aircraft, and it is customary for everyone to stand and be silent as the body is moved. Believe it or not, everybody, as far as I could see, stood up and the entire terminal became quiet. I then said as loudly as I could, that all current and former service members, in or out of uniform, were authorized to render the hand salute, and all civilians were to place their hand over their hearts. As soon as the tip of the flag draped coffin appeared, I bellowed out "Pre-sent...ARMS" and you could hear a pin drop except for the multitude of arms going over their hearts. The entire terminal was silent...no talking, no announcements over the PA, silence...only silence.
The casket traveled down the ramp. All the US Air employees servicing the aircraft and unloading baggage stopped and stood silently with their hands over their hearts. The police officer was saluting. The Marines picked upthe casket and placed it gently into the hearse, then closed the rear door. Inside the terminal, I gave the command to "Or-Der Arms". When I turned around, there were literally hundreds and hundreds of people standing silently...all over the terminal...at all the gates on our side of the concourse, as well as all the gates on the opposite side. I noticed every woman, of child bearing age either had tears in her eyes, or running down their cheeks...and a lot of fathers did too.
I was taken back. People still care.
During the next 10 minutes, a lot of former service members, fathers of soldiers, and a few moms came and thanked me for letting them know what to do. I didn't do anything compared to that Marine.
People want to be led to do what is right...America still cares. America still has gratitude. The American spirit is not dead. We don't need to apologize to anyone for who we are. I don't know who that Marine was, where he served, or how he died. All I know is that he raised his right arm, took the oath, put on that uniform, and did his duty. That's good enough for me. I don't know how he died, or where he was going. All I know is that his dreams for a better life are over. Somewhere tonight there is a grieving wife, or mother, or father...and their pain has just begun. I began this evening concerned that I might be inconvenienced. Tonight I am safe, my family is safe, the worst thing that might happen to me is a little inconvenience. I am safe because of the sacrifices that Marine made. I am safe due to the sacrifices that all our brothers in arms have made since 1776.
His duty is over. Our duty is not. It is not our duty to simply stand and pay respect as a fallen soldier passes. Our duty is to remain steadfast that our Armed Forces not be committed to harm's way recklessly, that theybe properly housed, trained, and led. We need to do our duty to provide our young men and women with the best equipment, not simply with weapons and armor that is "good enough". I wish I knew the family of that Marine to say thanks. I wish I could let them know that for a few minutes, in an airport terminal of one of the busiest airports in the United States of America, a group of Americans rendered an honor to their son. I doubt it could take the edge off their loss, but I think it wouldn't hurt. It made me think. It made us all reflect for a few minutes.
Thank you brave Marine for one last gift...
Ken Robertson, LTC, USAR, Retired Reserve