Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Big Send Off

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.


  1. Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful service.

    Godspeed Dan Truett McWhorter

  2. What a beautiful send off. Thank you for sharing with us, it was "almost" like being there. We love you. May God continue to watch over you and yours until you meet your Dad again.

  3. OMGosh. What an incredible send off!

    And what a man your must have been.

  4. A beautiful tribute to a life well-lived. Thank you for sharing the special and sweet aspects of your family that also make visiting your blog so fun. Though most of us have never met you, thanks for including us as you recalled those tender reminisces from your past. It's another way you McWhorters have continued to make the world a nicer place.

  5. It sounds like it was an amazing service. Wonderfully moving and personal. I'm sure your father was quite pleased.

  6. Thank you for including us in your father's send off. From reading your blog it must have truly been a wonderful, moving experience. I'm with your daughter, a funeral should be a celebration of life on earth and the your next life with God. Wearing black isn't appropriate for a celebration. May God bless you and your family and friends.

  7. Thank you for sharing his story, and your grief and celebration.
    That is quite a tribute to a wonderful father. You were very blessed to have such a father and the send off you gave him was something I'm sure he enjoyed. He is smiling at you now.
    God Bless you and yours.

  8. I have followed this site for a long time, and have never posted.
    I served in the army in the early 80's and have participated in funeral services for ww2 vets and believe me it was truly a very moving and memorable experience.
    Thank you for your blog it really makes my day each and every morning
    my thoughts are with you and your family as i too have been there, its not easy but always remember your great memories will be with you forever

    thanks again from Hickory N.C

  9. How in the world did you have the poise to take photos. Amazing.

    My father's funeral had cowboy music; but off on a distant hill a mariachi band played. Wonderful.

    I need more Kleenex.

  10. You are right, it was a great service, Mariachi band and all! I particularly liked your description of Mexican culture being "3 clicks more intense." Very apt. And, although I have very little connection to the military, I've always found military funerals to be incredibly touching. Such honor, dignity and strong bonds.

  11. What a beautiful day. As I am sure you know, receiving that Flag is truly an eternal moment here on earth. Receiving my Father's made me realize his service truly will never be forgotten. It is sealed in the history books and in our hearts. Thanks for all you give and share.

  12. A wonderful way to honor your father! And your daughter is right about funeral clothes. Thanks so much for sharing it all with us.

  13. My heartfelt condolences. Unfortunately, I missed events as they unfolded...I was travelling. In catching up today, I found myself with tears in my eyes.

    You sent your father off in grand style. You are to be commended.

    Graham, St. John's Nf

  14. There is nothing like a military funeral, but this really sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I don't know you, let alone didn't know you dad, but I have tears in my eyes as I read your post.

  16. That's about as good as it gets; quite a send off of quite a guy.

  17. My tears were dripping while reading.

  18. A fine tribute to your dad. Thanks for letting us share just a bit of it.


  19. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful service with us.

    Our prayers are with your family.

  20. My dad was in the Navy (he was injured at Pearl Harbor), and made many of the arrangements for his own funeral, but never, ever mentioned any sort of military send-off. I only wish I had known it was available! The one wish he did have was that "Anchors Aweigh" be played at the end of the service.

    "And what am I to do, hire the local highschool band?"

    "That's your problem, my dear."

    Gee, thanks, dad. We did, however, do exactly that, and it was great, but I wish I'd known that a flag, and Taps, and all that was available to him. He was the same age as your dad - they really were the Greatest Generation.

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  22. Thank you for sharing that moment of your life with us. It was truly moving and I felt like I was there with you, standing on the west Texas plains, with a light breeze ruffling the grass, surrounded by family and friends, and saying goodbye and God Speed to your beloved father.

  23. Thank you for sharing this - it moved me to tears and a feeling that I wish I had known your father - he sounded like an amazing man. Your composure and desire to celebrate his life and obvious humanity is truly admirable.
    I love the thought of your father and his friend having their cigar together up high and watching his beautiful send off.

  24. What a wonderful tribute to a truly wonderful man. I got misty eyed just reading about it. I am glad that you shared it with us.

  25. I am glad that you had such a great dad and have so many wonderful memories. His funeral service seems to have been incredibly true to his life. What a blessing for you and your family!

  26. I was a little late getting to this. But it just brought me to tears. I'm happy to read that you got a band on such short notice. Its amazing to me how much one can feel for a "stranger" over the internet. I thank you deeply for sharing such a upsetting time in your life.

    I have no clue how you could snap pictures... I don't know If, I myself could. Agian thakyou so very much for letting us into your life.
    Your family is in my prayers

  27. Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement.

    Just a note . . . Mrs. PJM took the pictures.

  28. It really sounds like a wonderful service and it brought tears to my eyes. Very touching, indeed. My own father passed away about a year ago and we also had the beautiful mixture of military honors and the Mariachis at the Ft. Sam National Cemetery. It is an awesome way to say "vaya con dios!"

    P.S. I think the Mrs. knows what she's talking about with the chickies. I've bought fresh eggs at the farmer's market outside Boerne and the guy told me how happy his chickies are...and productive...and those were the best eggs ever!

  29. I love your daughter's attitude. When a Christian passes from time to eternity, I remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said...

    Free, free, free at last. Thank Almighty God, I'm free at last!

  30. At some point, memories must suffice. You are fortunate to have so many good ones! I am sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing the Send Off with your online friends.

  31. This is achingly sweet... thank you for sharing. I am always touched by the honor and respect military fellows show their peers of any age. God bless them. And my Papa loved the Mexican people too... I love their passionate way of life. Thank you for sharing this.

  32. Thank you for sharing your personal story with us,and I have to say it moved me so much.
    I live in Holland and we Dutch folks will be forever grateful to people like your father who have risked their own live for other people.
    That is in my eyes so incredible brave and thanks to people like your father we in Holland were liberated.
    So I salute your father and want to say thanks so much for what you did!