OK, we gave my dad his big send off yesterday, and what a send off it was. I had mentioned that my dad had served in the Pacific during World War II. He had been in the first wave to land on the beaches of Leyte, and then was also in the first wave to land on Okinawa. He was on the front lines and in the most intense battles on Okinawa. He received 4 bronze start for his service. To honor his service, we wanted to have a military funeral for him. To be honest, I had expected that the military would send down a couple of bureaucrats in uniform to fold up the flag and play taps. But, it was much different than that. They sent down three decorated active duty combat soldiers. Each was here between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each had been in combat. There is no way to tell you how much that meant that the army would remember an old World War II soldier by sending three of their best . . . three modern day heroes.
Hearing taps, and watching them fold the flag from my father's casket was truly a moving experience.
After folding the flag, the young soldier came over and knelt down at my mom's seat. He presented her with the flag, and he had tears rolling down his cheek. He struggled with a quivering voice as he told her that on behalf of the US Army, he presented her with the flag, and he thanked her for my father's service in the pacific. He did not know my father, but he mourned for the loss of one of his "brothers in arms". I have to say watching him give my mom that flag was the most moving experience of my life.
Below is my best buddy Mark. Mark is not in the military, but he has a particular set of skills that result in him working in Afghanistan. In America's War on Terror, he is on the very edge of the sharp end of the spear. Given his line of work, I find it interesting that he is probably the sweetest man I have ever met in my life. It was a true blessing that he happened to have returned from Afghanistan the day before my dad got sick. Mark, my brother, my dad and I spent many, many afternoons over the last ten years sitting on the South Concho river smoking fine Cuban cigars. Mark was there with us during that last week. He would hold my dads hand and just say the sweetest things you ever heard. For hours on end he would just whisper to my dad, "You are my old buddy, you are my old smoking buddy, you are my old ride around town buddy". He sat and told my dad about every good time they had ever had together.
Cousin Scott was also a Pall Bearer.
Yes, it was a military funeral, but it was also much more. You see, I really did it. In the end I really did it . . . I ordered up a Mariachi Band to be at the cemetery. You see, there were many unusual things about my dad, but one of the really unique things about him is that he had a peculiar love of Mexicans. I say "peculiar" in that he was not looking for social justice, he was not political, he was not trying to right wrongs or anything like that, he just loved Mexicans. When I was a little boy, he taught himself Spanish, and then he was always looking for a Mexican to talk to. In later years when he could not get around very well, my mom would leave him on the bench in the front of walmart while she went in shopping. When she would get done, and come back to get him, he would invariably have a group of Mexicans around him talking to them. They probably thought it was funny that this old guy wanted to talk to them. When he was in the hospital that last week, a lot of the nurses were Mexican, and he would always speak to them in Spanish. Then as he grew weak, and could not see who was there, he would speak to all the nurses in Spanish, I guess just in case they were Mexican. The white nurses would have to ask him to speak English.
When the very end was growing near, we moved him back home. The last day or so, my mom was by his side constantly. When the very end came, my mom had stepped out very briefly to take care of some other matters. So, it is interesting that when my dad actually passed away, it was his little Mexican housekeeper, Rosa, who was holding his hand. She had her Mexican music playing on a little CD player by his bed. So, I thought, what could be more appropriate than a good old fashioned Mariachi band at the funeral.
I don't know if you have ever tried to book a Mariachi band at late notice for an early Saturday morning job, but it is not an easy thing. I guess Friday nights are a big night for Mariachi bands, and few are willing to make a commitment for an early Saturday show. My dad loved the San Antonio river walk probably more than just about any other place, and we were actually able to finally get a Mariachi band from the river walk to agree to come. San Antonio is a good 4 hours away, and we finally got them signed up late Friday afternoon. Even having them signed up, I put it at about 50-50 whether they would actually make it. Saturday morning at about 7:30 I got a report that a Mariachi band had been spotted having breakfast at Jo-Jo's, the local cafe. I knew my Boys had made it! So, yes they did make it to the service, and what a wonderful thing it was.
As the guests arrived at the cemetery, the Mariachi band was playing the slowest saddest music you have ever heard. If you have been around the Mexican people, you notice that the culture is that these people live life with their intensity dials set about 3 clicks higher than everyone else . . . their food is hotter, their drinks are colder, and their colors are brighter than most of the rest of us. When they are mad, they get madder, when they are happy, they are happier, and when they are sad, they are sadder than the rest of us. So, there is no music as sad, as sad Mexican music. That sad music, and the sight of the casket with the flag brought everyone to tears. The service started with the same sad theme set by the music . . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust sort of thing.
Then towards the end of the service, the Mariachi band played and sang "Vayo Con Dios" to the casket. Well, Vayo Con Dios is quite possibly the saddest song ever written, and they sang it sadder than anyone I had ever heard. It was truly a rendition for the ages. They sang it like it was their own Mama in that casket. Everyone was bawling.
Then the preacher shared the message of hope and faith, and the promises or resurrection and new life in Christ. Then he gave a wonderful closing prayer, and with the last "Amen", the Mariachis really uncorked it and let rip one of the most rousing presentations of "Rancho Grande" and other most festive songs. I am talking the full "Reeba Reeba" and "Yeee Haaaaaaa" Mexican music. Very exciting and changed all the crying to joy and celebration.
It really was a stirring service, and the mix of the Military, the message of faith and hope, and the Mexican music all came together to create a wonderful service.
Our lovely daughter, and a young lady of great faith refuses to wear black to a funeral.
The lovely Maxine Morgan. Those of you who have read this blog for a while, or those of you who read the best seller "True Women" have read the incredible stories of Georgia "Little Sweet" Woods in the Civil War. When Maxine was a little girl, she shared a room with a very old lady . . . Little Sweet. Maxine grew up hearing the stories in "True Women" from Little Sweet herself. Maxine is such a wonderful woman, I enjoyed having a few minutes to visit with her yesterday.
So, we sent my dad off in grand fashion yesterday, and I promise that tomorrow I will get back to posting the old pictures you have come to expect and love. Thank you for giving me a few days to share a little of my grief and joy. It has meant a lot.