This was sent to me by Brown Water Jim of the Mekong Squids. At this time of year, we give thanks for many things we hold dear and held dear in the past. One is a great respect for traditions. I love warm tales of military camaraderie that reflect richly on service traditions and the respect we accord those who finally punch out. Which is why, today , I wish to share this one.
Time is like a river. You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life you can. I’ve personally gone to the edge and peered over. The bright light was the one they use in all operating rooms so don’t let that analogy throw you. Seriously, readers. Life is short so break the candle into four and light all the ends. Don’t die with a bunch of leftover candles. Light ’em up.
As a lifer military bagpiper, I played many gigs. After I retired, demands were constant for my services in the southeast where I settled. Recently I was asked by a Veterans Service Organization to play at a graveside service for one of the last of the survivors of the Bataan Death March. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Mississippi backcountry. Thaddeus had personally requested this even though a slot at Arlington had been procured far in advance and held open by his Senator.
As I was not familiar with this neck of the woods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn’t stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral entourage and flag bearers had evidently bugged out and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the cemetery crew left and they were sitting on the backhoe eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized profusely to them for being late. They nodded but were tightlipped and said nothing. I could see my tardiness was not going to be let go lightly. Veterans of all wars, and especially the War of Northern Aggression, are highly regarded thereabouts. Saying something stupid like the dog ate my music score wasn’t going to placate them so I didn’t try and kept on walking.
I went to the side of the grave and looked down but the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I unpacked my gear and started to play. Lilting melodies came from my pipes followed by Souza military marches. After what seemed like hours of that I gradually segued into more funereal dirges.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I’ve never played before for a Veteran whose travails and deprivations, diseases and dismemberments few could ever know or conceive of.
At the sequel as I played “Amazing Grace”, the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head was hung low, my heart was full. I might have been selfish with my tardiness but I could hold my head high knowing that this loyal American-this selfless, brave Veteran- had been given the best send off onto his next plane of adventures as I knew how to. At the very least, it could be said he did not set sail on this new adventure alone. In fact, several of the workers who were Vets had saluted as the last refrain subsided.
As I opened the door to my car, a low voice of wonder from one of the workers carried to me over that hallowed ground, ” Holy Jesus. I never seen nothing like that before, Clem, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for nigh on twenty years.”
Happy Thanksgiving to you all and thank you for your warm camaraderie over the years. HCVets and their entourage have waited for deliverance for over a score since scientists finally found what was killing us. Veterans, as most know, were 60% more likely to get this than their civilian counterparts. Humor is essential to beat back the depression associated with it. If you suffer Bent Brain Syndrome, this is equally therapeutic as well. And knowing I was born on April Fools would lead to the presumption of regularity that I would have to give this a humorous Veteran’s spin.