My Dad served in the Civilian Conservation Corps; the United States Army Air Corps, and the United States Air Force. A few years after that retirement, he worked in the U.S. Civil Service and gained a second retirement. His career in the military and military-support spanned The Great Depression, World War II, The Korean War and the Vietnam War.
My brother enlisted into the United States Army at the tail-end of the Vietnam War. My son served briefly in the U.S. Army.
I’m no stranger to those who have served our country. I suppose for my age, I identify most with those who served in Vietnam. I was still young, but I remember how that war divided our country. I remember those Soldiers and Airmen returning home and being on the “outs” with their family, their neighbors and with society. I knew of the opposition to the Vietnam War, but could not figure out the opposition to those that returned.
Upon reflection and in retrospect, I know now, that many did unspeakable things. But, I also know many did heroic things. Many did things that were merely their duty. Many just tried to survive until it was over. And many did not survive. And to this day, thousands of Vietnam veterans struggle with “surviving” still.
Recently, somewhere out there on the Internet, it was reported that America has been involved in some kind of military conflict for 224 out of 240 years. Granted, all of these have not been “wars”, and our conflicts and skirmishes with US Native Americans and our Great Western Expansion and our colonizations are all included in these years. But looking at our history, we have called upon young men, young women, boys and girls on many occasions to serve our country by serving in our Armed Forces. And over those years, millions of these souls have died performing that duty. And thus we have Memorial Day–a day to remember the men and women that died; so that “we might be free.”
We fly flags. We have parades. We say, “Thank-you” to existing veterans and those currently serving. We swell with pride and patriotism and celebrate those connected with us in family or friendship that have served our country.
When my Dad passed away; he was honored with a Military funeral. A flag draped over his casket, “Taps” played at the cemetery, a foot stone on his grave, marking his place in the ground and marking his identity as one who served in 2 wars for the United States of America. A folded flag was presented to my mother as 3 rifles were fired 3 times. An uniformed serviceman, knelt in front of her and told her as “a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of” my father.
I have learned since that time, there are numerous ceremonies and memorial services for fallen members of the military.
In the US Army and Marines, if a person is killed in battle, a memorial service is performed by his platoon or squad. A battlefield cross is erected. This is a symbolic replacement of a cross on the battlefield or at the base camp for a soldier who has been killed. It is constructed with the soldier’s rifle stuck into the ground or into the soldier’s boots, with helmet on top. Dog tags are sometimes placed on the rifle, and the boots of the dead soldier can be placed next to the rifle. Often a photo of the fallen is attached. The purpose is to show honor and respect for the dead at the battle site.
A “Last Roll Call” is planned and conducted by the sergeant in charge. This is the final tribute paid by soldiers to their dead friend and fellow soldier. It is conducted as an accountability roll call conducted by the unit First Sergeant following combat. The Last Roll is called with the conviction held by soldiers that all unit members will be accounted for, and none will ever be forgotten. The First Sergeant or equivalent will call off the names of everybody in the unit. Each person responds with “Here first sergeant” or “here sergeant”. The dead soldiers name is said last. It is first called out as rank and last name–“Private Williams?”
There is no response.
“Private Alexander Williams?”
“Private Alexander Henry Williams?”
For the third time, No Response.
At that time, 7 rifles fire three volleys into the air and a bugler plays “Taps”. I watched one of these Last Roll Call ceremonies on YouTube. It brought goosebumps to my arms.
No matter what political affiliation I have, or whether I approve or disapprove of any military action performed by our country, above all, I’m an American. I go through my day with certain freedoms and liberties that were only afforded to me by the sacrifices of US Armed Forces members, both men and women, old and all too often; very young–who fell at the construct of battle and war.
Today, I remember Memorial Day for its purpose. I will remember The Fallen and I shall be grateful for their service and I will mourn with their families for all those lost while serving our country. They have my deepest respect. I will remember Memorial Day for its purpose and those that gave their lives .
And let us all remember that there are far too many buglers playing that instrument and far too many silent responses to these roll calls. This is what I choose to remember and reflect upon this Memorial Day, Two-thousand and Sixteen.
The Last Roll Call
Here we stand in formation
To honor a brother who served his nation
One by one our names are read
As the tears begin to shed
His name is called there is no sound
Just solemn faces all around
Three times in all his name is said
But he cannot answer for he is dead
READY AIM FIRE
READY AIM FIRE
READY AIM FIRE
He will never shoot another round
His rifle sticks in the ground
I see the boots he used to wear
They’re empty now he isn’t there
I’ll forever remember the day he died
I’ll remember today when we all cried
So on this day we say goodbye
But in our hearts he’ll never die
U.S. Marine Corps photo ©2003 by Lance Cpl. Jonathan P. Sotelo
“The Last Roll Call” © Copyright 2009 Legend (lgndry2004 at Writing.Com).