I’ve stood among giants. Men and women who’ve served in combat are heroes one and all — and I’ve known quite a few. Almost all become quiet and reserved when you inquire about their time in battle. They’ll usually ask to change the subject or somehow become distant and reflective. This makes it difficult to truly understand the sacrifices our fallen heroes have made for us and the horrors our returning veterans have experienced. Perhaps we can better comprehend if we’re permitted a glimpse into the reverence with which our military treats their fallen comrades. With all due respect and reverence I offer to you an excerpt from correspondence received from my brother-in-law, Lt. Colonel Michael Stelzig, currently stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Today we said goodbye to two of our fallen Heroes, a Marine and a Navy Corpsman, who where killed in action last night. We call the farewell a “Ramp Ceremony” which is designed as a dignified transfer of our dead from the unit to a military aircraft to begin their final journey home.
The C-130 or C-17 aircraft is parked on the ramp of the airfield with its rear doors open exposing the entire length of the plane. This plane will carry only our dead, no other cargo. This ceremony is conducted for each and every Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Armed guards and armored vehicles are posted, surrounding the plane facing outward, standing vigilant to prevent a suicide bomber or insurgent attack from attempting to take advantage of a large group of assembled troops.
Today, the formation was about 400 Coalition military and civilian members, assembled in two parallel formations, 10 ranks deep, facing each other, creating a corridor extending at least 100 yards from the tail of the plane. When unit commanders and staff are in position next to the plane, the ambulance arrives, backing up to the end of the formation.
The chaplain steps forward to deliver a brief but powerful prayer. Next, the honor guards (members of the unit) carefully move the casket from the ambulance, they slow-march their fallen brother down with human corridor and into the plane. They secure the casket in the plane render one last salute before exiting the plane. They repeat process for their other fallen brother.
As the honor guard starts to slow march toward the plane the Sergeant Major orders the formation to present arms, the formation holds the salute until each fallen hero is secured inside the plane. The unit commanders and staff file inside the plane, render a salute as a final goodbye to their fallen warriors then exit the plane. The plane is prepared for an immediate departure.
Much can be said about the way a culture takes care of their war dead. Today we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Our two Heroes’ pain in this world has ended, but their families’ pain is just beginning. Please keep the families of our Marine and Corpsman in your hearts today as they just found out or will soon find out that they just lost a son, a brother, a husband or a father.
Today, please don’t think of Memorial Day as the “beginning of summer.” It’s not a day of parades and hot dogs and beer even though most of us will partake in such festivities. Please take the time to say a silent Thank You to those who’ve given their all and a prayer for their families and for those who still are in harm’s way. May they all return safely. Amen.