A Hero Gone Home, Part III

21 gun salute

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

I stepped out of the pavilion with John and Jen holding me.  No one is ever prepared for the noise of a 21-gun salute.  With absolute precision (much like Don!), they moved, turned and fired as one.  It was chilling and awesome.  Then the plaintive sound of taps, played oh so slowly.  Even above the sound, I could hear sobs and cries behind me.

Afterwards we saw the whole crew of those soldiers at the restaurant.  Don’s brother paid for their lunch and we had our pictures taken with them.  They were wonderful and proud, giving their time freely to stand with a comrade to the last.

One tall, very straight-backed, white haired soldier came up to me and said, “I saw you at the burial.”  The director had asked me to walk first before the others to enter the pavilion, holding on to John’s arm.  Actually, this great military specimen had seen me double over to cry at the sight of these valiant American soldiers, in formation with their guns.

His full uniform carried many stripes and ribboned bars.  He looked up over my head, no longer looking me in the eye, but gazing off to some distant thought.  He bowed out his chest, straightened his coat lapel and said, “I am 82 years old and I still have life in me!” With that, he just turned and walked, no ~ marched out the door.  And I called out after him, “You certainly do!” – though I don’t think he heard me or cared to!

Later I wondered if he was all too aware of his own military burial.

In the afternoon, we went to see the grave covered.  Don’s grave was in a long row of those 11 heroes.  We had not thought to bring some of the funeral flowers!  The other graves had piles of bouquets and wreaths.  John and Jen and I were alone there and so we asked “Joel” who was buried next to Don if we could have just a couple of roses.  John felt that “Joel,” if he knew, would gladly share his flowers with a comrade, so we plucked two and laid them on Don’s grave.  “Well,” I said, “it looks like a lover left her red and white roses there.”  Jennifer agreed so we thanked “Joel,” and went around to read tombstones.

Jake died in Iraq at the age of 22.  Evan served in WWII and lived to 2012.  Wives were buried with husbands. The epithets were mostly typical: Wonderful Father and Grandfather. Dearly Loved. Greatly Missed.

Carole wrote the epithet for Don’s white marble marker ~


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