I never met Specialist Jayne, but because of his death I found myself one crisp evening under a canopy in the middle of his hometown high school football field. The game lights shone bright and highlighted our breath as it came out in little puffs. The father, mother, step-father and siblings of this young soldier had just spent 4 hours in the school auditorium, standing next to the casket of their fallen hero, receiving the condolences, gratitude, memories and expressions of faith from any in the community who wished to come. When I came into the auditorium it was quiet but for whispered conversations, occasional laughter when sweet memories were shared and some soft background music. I was there because my husband, an Army Chaplain, was asked to conduct the funeral of Specialist Jayne.
My husband had been with the family for a few hours before I came to the auditorium. While he was with them I searched my mind for some gift I might offer the family, especially his mother. I found a store and purchased the items required for my brainchild and then went back to my room. Carefully I ironed a white hankie, whipped together a little offering and wrapped it in some tissue paper with a ribbon.
At the auditorium, when a lull in the line presented itself, my sweetheart joined me and I waited my turn to greet the family. I didn’t have the words to say figured out in my head, but when I approached Specialist Jayne’s mother my husband introduced me and I offered, “I wanted to give you a little gift, a token from our family.” She opened the wrap and inside found the neatly pressed hankie with a double ribbon stitched near the tip. I explained, “The yellow ribbon represents the hope of a soldier coming home, and the white represents the peace we wish for your family.” She gave me a hug which was followed by another hug from her husband. With misty eyes they thanked me for the gift and for the time they’d been able to spend with my husband the Chaplain. Then they invited me to join them on the football field when the time came.
After the reception ended a few words were spoken, a slideshow of the life of Specialist Jayne was presented, there was a prayer and then the visitors were invited to exit to the football bleachers. The family took a few minutes to themselves while those who would participate in the ceremony took their places on the field.
To the sound of bagpipes I tailed the official party and they trailed the flag-draped casket as it was carried onto the field. I felt it an awkward privilege to be invited to participate so intimately, and to witness so clearly, the footsteps of the grieving family.
Taps is a forlorn melody. While living on an Army Post I hear it played every night, blasting its memoriam across the post to signal the end of the day. Hearing it at the funeral of Specialist Jayne, to the inconsolable sobs of his younger brother, was a sacred melody.
Since my hubby joined the service The Star Spangled Banner has increased in meaning to me, quite different than before I had a soldier of my own. New experiences change forever the ordinariness of extraordinary traditions.
Gunfire has a concussive effect that rattles my nerves but the salvo of a 21-Gun Salute shakes my soul, my knees nearly buckle and I often will steady myself with the sturdy arm of whoever is standing next to me. As I braced myself for the coming volleys, I wished to spare this family, especially the little brother, from this time honored tradition. The service included each of these elements, rich in meaning and emotion.
After the prayer, the folding of the flag, with its presentation to Specialist Ryan Jayne’s incredibly grounded, gracious mother, the casket was carried off the field followed by the family. On the edge of the field was a waiting hearse into which the casket was carefully placed. From a few paces away I saw as the back door was closed and a beloved brother firmly placed his hand on the window for a moment before joining his family in the warmth of the school. As I walked past I watched the foggy outline of his warm hand on the cold glass fade and disappear. I took a picture of that in my heart and it remains with me.
So – along with your day off, your rack of ribs, your freedom . . . remember to remember.
The following is a Memorial Day video honoring those Soldiers who have died with whom my husband and I had a personal connection.
(This was a beautiful headstone I found at the National Cemetery at Fort Sam Houston, TX)