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Our American flag, presented to patriots and those who have fallen

It’s a late winter burial of iconic Naval Chief Bill Morrison, being buried beside his predeceased wife at Irondale Cemetery. He is to be accorded full military honors. The chief served his country for 20 years — much of it involving intense combat in South East Asia seas during WWII. 

Mr. Bill was an inspiration to me. Because of his influence I joined the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam Conflict. Uncle Bill left his earthly mortal moorings on Feb. 17th. A few days later family and friends assembled at the cemetery to honor him in a farewell goodbye. This is my unashamed story of that day.

Five or six inches of snow and slush covered the cemetery grounds. The cemetery caretaker had kindly plowed parking areas approximately 80 yards distant from the event. These areas quickly turned to mud under the sunny and 40 degree weather. 

My wife and I slowly made our way to the burial site. I gazed upon the chief’s casket, honorable and appropriately draped in the patriotic symbol of freedom — Our American Flag. I rendered a respectful salute to the flag enshrouded casket awaiting burial beside his predeceased wife. A West Point honor guard was present. Two 2nd class petty officers at the grave site and the captain bugler positioned over an adjacent rise. The wind was brisk, with civilian banter and some laughter. I couldn’t laugh or even force a smile under these circumstances, which occur too many times — too often. The priest gave a short eulogy. The formal military ceremony began.

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The female petty officer stood at the foot of the casket, the male at its head. They saluted one another. They had a job to do regardless of weather or discomfort. They each lifted their ends of the American flag by its corners. With precise, practiced precision they neatly folded the flag. The red and white stripes were consumed with 13 precise folds into a blue field with its white stars. It was a precise neat triangle. The lead petty officer kneeled in front of the deceased’s appropriate family recipient. I knew this was difficult for him. I knew it was breaking my heart. He was a professional and carried on — “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation of your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” 

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The honor guard resumed its intended positions. The bugler commenced the sad mournful notes of taps. I nodded at him and rendered a slow, sharp salute through its duration. I slowly lowered my salute. I could feel tears welling behind my eyes. I did not blink. I remained wide eyed as long as possible then turned and blinked. The inevitable tears dripped down both my cheeks. I discreetly brushed them away while avoiding human contact. 

I whispered an inaudible promise to the chief. There will be an American flag flying here tomorrow and for all the tomorrows remaining in my life. It must fly always upon our veterans’ and first responders’ graves signifying freedom and the precious memories of those who provided us those freedoms.

God bless you patriotic readers and your families. If the editor is agreeable I look forward to providing you with additional ramblings in the future. Have a great summer all.

 

Millerton resident Larry Conklin is a Vietnam veteran, a member of the VFW Post 6851 in North Canaan, Conn., and the Millerton American Legion Post 178.