A Hero Gone Home, Part I

flag at half mass

The burial service of Don Alec Nelson.
7 January 2013
National Military Cemetery
Canton, GA

John, Jennifer and I arrived early for the burial at the National Military cemetery in Canton, Georgia. Beside the road there was a flag at half-mast.  We groaned and wept at such a sight, for it is done only for important personages. To us, Don was that important.  I had had a fleeting (not serious) thought: “Really it should be on national news!”  Don’s passing, as Carole said, was an earthquake of our very existence.

I had never been to this beautiful cemetery, a national burial place for those who served their country.  How thankful we were that our country created such places of honor for our heroes! It was pristine and silent. One section was filled with hundred and hundreds of white marble headstones, lined in perfect military order. It was a wrenching site!  Later we would spend time wandering among those graves, reading the names and rank, and the special epithets on each.

The hills of the 700-acre cemetery rose quite high above other mountains in the Blue Ridge range.  The weather had been cold and rainy for three miserable weeks. But this day!  It was fittingly glorious. Not a cloud in the sky ~ it’s most brilliant blue.  All of us got out of our cars, wandered over the smooth brown grass and drank the view of valleys and hills below. Don’s granddaughters frolicked and rolled in the brown grass. Someone said don’t do that. Carole turned and laughed, “And why not? In such a place!”

We were third in line for burial so we had to wait our turn. Eleven heroes were buried on that one winter morning.  The director came to me and said emphatically, “You will have EXACTLY seven minutes, no more. We must keep the schedule!”  I had no idea how much time my message would take. It was brief.  I was going to simply read scriptures and say thank you to God, in behalf of us all. Jennifer was assigned to keep the time and let me know when 6 minutes had passed.  For this service I was broken and bowed. Somehow Don’s military service in Germany, his tank experience, became more real there. One of his Army buddies had flown in from Wisconsin, just for the funeral. But more than that, this was the last goodbye and it was especially hard.

As I walked to the outdoor pavilion, there were some 12 military personnel lined up before it, each with a gun. They were mostly older, probably retired, and many were white haired. They represented every branch of the service: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and National Guard.  It wrenched my heart to see them, standing at attention, volunteers to honor their fallen comrades.

Don’s casket was rolled into the front covered with the American flag and all the men saluted.

(Continue reading Part II tomorrow.)

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