A few days ago, TS&WGH, AKA Mr. Incredible, AKA my husband posted on his blog about pictures of flag-draped coffins. His timing happened to coincide with the kids and I watching a TV show featuring a soldier that brought me to tears, and so got me thinking.
It wasn’t a Lifetime tear-jerker movie, nor a raw news report. It was “Underdog to Wonderdog” a bit of fluff on Animal Planet where a team makes over a sad case from an animal shelter and gives it a happy new home. What made me cry was that on this particular episode the dad of the recipient family was deployed to Afghanistan and the dog was supposed to help one of the kids through the separation. At the end of the show, the girl got her dog, AND, as my kids predicted, dad returned home at the same time. Deployed parents miss so many small but important moments in their family’s lives and this family was no different than any other out there. The tears flowed on TV and at my house.
Soldiers are generic in a way. They are (or at least were, before the catch phrase became “An Army of One”) trained to step in for one another. They shed their individualism at Basic Training and are rebuilt as one unit. It makes them better at what they do. What it also does is make each one a part of a greater whole.
So, when one soldier returns home in time to be a part of welcoming a new family member, then there’s hope that they all will return to witness such moments. When one is brought home solemnly in a flag-draped casket, that could be any soldier — even mine.
In 2003 my husband’s battalion lost a soldier in an IED attack. He was in another Company, not my husband’s (simplified, Divisions are made of battalions, Battalions are made of companies, Companies are made of platoons and Platoons are made of soldiers). I personally had never met this man. But, when we went to his memorial service at the chapel on post I choked up as soon as I saw his boots with the carefully placed weapon and helmet. When individuals went up to pay their respects to the empty boots the faucet started flowing. Those could have been my husband’s boots, or my neighbor’s, a friend’s, even those of my uncles who served in Vietnam, or of my grandfather who fought in WWII.
Speaking of my grandfather, he never had much to say about his service when I was growing up. Neither did the uncle who we saw often. It wasn’t until Mr. Incredible joined the Army that Granddad became a fount of Army stories. He loved to hold court with my man. By proxy he and I became closer too. When he died a small honor guard played Taps and folded the flag on his coffin, then gave it to my dad. Since that day, I choke up at the sight of most triangularly folded flags (I say most because we also have a folded flag that was flown over the US capitol on the day Mr. Incredible was commissioned as an officer; so that one has happy memories). These flags hold proud stories.
They may just be pictures, or clothes, a song, or a simple gesture, but in the context of the military, they can represent so much more.