Tuesday, June 15, 2010
It's the hardest thing I've experienced while sober. My mother died while I was still drinking and I was pretty drunk through the whole thing.
This was different.
There was a brief service at the funeral home from 9:00 until 10:00 a.m. Dad's cremated remains were in a box on a table to the right and, on the left, was a table full of memorabilia about my dad -- much of it from his Navy days during WWII in the South Pacific where he was a gun captain aboard a refueling ship -- the kind of ship the Kamikaze's loved to aim for because they made such nice booms. Dad would only say of his wartime experience that he and his crew had "shot down a couple of Japs."
I was detached and calm through that whole part of the morning. At 10:00 we struck out for the cemetary and were there in about 20 minutes.
As we disembarked in front of the reception building a single bell started to toll. A Navy man, in dress whites, stood in front of the building holding a wooden case containing the folded up Old Glory. As we entered the building, across the quarterdeck, an honor guard, all in dress uniforms, stood on both sides and rendered us a salute.
We turned the corner into the chapel, the back wall of which was solid glass, two stories high. Outside we could see the rifle squad marching out to a mound, followed by the bugler.
My siblings and I, with my step-mother between my brother and sister, sat in the front pew... the rest of the family and friends filling in behind.
The minister made some remarks about dad being called "by the Supreme Commander in the sky" and I just dissolved. It started with a noise I had never heard myself make before -- followed by a flood of mucous and tears and sobbing and more weird noises. I reached around under the pew, looking for a box of tissues, but they only had this wimpy little kimwipe type things that wouldn't hold an ounce of water. I looked down the pew and my sister and brother had also both lost it. We were all bawling our eyes out.
Then came the kick in the gut. After the rifle squad had fired their salute and the bugler had played taps and the flag had been re-folded into the familiar triangular shape, the Navy Captain ( an O-6 ), took the flag as shown above and knelt on one knee in front of my stepmom.
"On behalf of the President of the United States, the Secretary of the Navy ... and a grateful nation..."
WHAM! It hit me. I was feeling feelings I didn't know I could feel. I knew that I loved my dad and had always loved my dad even when I resented him and that I would miss him.
And deep down inside I knew that I had made a good decision 42 years ago, when I decided to enlist in the Navy.
As had my father. As had his father.
I am my father's son.
And at heart, we are all deep-water sailors.