Sacred obligation

The detail leader of the Funeral Honors Team tells them where to line up. They form a casual line in preparation for the event and wait for the mourners who are leaving. ETA is 15 minutes. The leader says to start falling in and gives the order, “Dress Right, Dress.” They form a single line evenly spaced, side by side, the rifle team at the ready, safeties on for now. Flags are unfurled and the bugle is ready for that single most mournful tune. The leader states masterfully, “ATTENTION!”, “Parade Rest.” They perform the moves learned and well mastered years before. The cortege has left and is now slowly, mournfully en route. The show begins. I say “show” here not as a piece of entertainment, but as a visual statement of historical continuity and cohesiveness. It shows others that this is serious. It shows them we never forget. By the rendering of final honors and rites it goes into the memory and full hearts of all mourners. Those veterans yet living see that they will also be honored accordingly.
The mourners arrive with the hearse leading the way, the family car immediately behind, followed by the rest of the family and friends. They flow in, maybe 20 to 30 cars, get out and walk to the awning with the Army flag flapping in the cool wind. They look a bit underdressed for the weather. Maybe they can use the air as an excuse for the tears. The funeral director directs the crowd for the graveside service. As the pallbearers remove the flag-draped casket, the command is given: “PRESENT ARMS!” The honors team “snaps to” and renders the salute of ancient honor. When the deceased is at the open grave a quieter command is given: “Parade Rest!” The team set the rifles at their side and stand at rest. The preacher then says a few words of eternity and comfort amidst a few sniffles and cleared throats.
The detail leader sends a silent signal to the honors team. Their hearts now beat a little stronger and faster. Rifle safeties are off.
Twenty-one blank rounds explode from the barrels in the silence of the cemetery. Live rounds are only for combat and marksmanship.
The bugle, an ancient instrument, has been used for many military calls to call members out of bed, to chow, assembly, lights out, prepare to fight, attack, retreat and other reasons during its history. Today it is called upon one more time in a small-town cemetary to perform “Butterfield's Lullaby,” named for the major general who wrote it in 1862: “Taps.” The first line is, “Day is Done.”
All stand at attention and the bugle tune makes that sound. It makes tears fall and skin crawl. It brings faces and memories back to mind. They think of their past comrades, places they've been, and all stand in respectful awe. Some remember the newly deceased. The mourners stand and face the music while a few more tears are wiped. Children have questions, but that's later.
“Order Arms!” The rifles are brought back to their sides. The sight and sound is now in hearts and minds.
The flag is ceremonially removed and hovered above the casket and enfolded into a formal triangle with well-rehearsed hands, then presented to the next of kin with, “. . .on behalf of a grateful nation.” Condolences are offered, more tears.
Another silent signal and the team is released with, “Dismissed.” They recover the brass cartridges from the grass that ejected only moments before with each volley. They return to the cars, load the weapons and flags, then depart, another funeral done, another fellow veteran honored and remembered.
Upon arrival at the VFW/American Legion hall, a bit of housekeeping occurs and they go to their cantina for a couple of rounds of cheer. Words of remembrance are again spoken among them - privately this time - then a special liquor is pulled out from a hiding place. The pouring, the toast, the solemn salute then glasses are downed. No one speaks of future funerals. Funerals will happen in time, but the team is a bit superstitious. When someone talks about funerals a funeral is soon to happen - another veteran might die. They talk about other things and go home. The sacred obligation is done. One day it will be their turn; until then honorable, hard–working, unsung life goes on, but we remember.