BEATRICE, NE, USA U.S. Army SPC, COMPANY A, 1ST BATTALION, 15TH INFANTRY (TF LIBERTY), FORT BENNING, GA FORT SAM HOUSTON 11/03/2005
This Veterans’ Day, I attended the funeral of a man I never met, and it was the most meaningful Veteran’s Day of my life, and I am changed by it.
Army Specialist Darren Howe died serving his country. He carried the fight to our enemies on their turf, and thereby kept them from having the mobility to mount attacks on our Homeland. He was a Patriot of the highest order, who willingly and selflessly assumed the risks associated with going in harm’s way. And at the point of greatest personal need, he acted heroically, sacrificially, to help save his brothers in arms.
Darren was by all accounts a superior young man. Husband, father, son, brother, Patriot, Hero. There are many such young men and women in the United States military forces. What made this day so special was what I learned first-hand about America.
I myself, as a Veteran and a member of the American Legion initiative called the Patriot Guard, traveled close to 400 miles round-trip to both honor Darren and to protect his family and friends from the potential appearance of the loutish cultists from Topeka, KS, whom I will not name. I joined in this ‘mission’ with many other Veterans and friends of Veterans. But, our presence was only what should be done.
The community response was overwhelming. Darren was clearly a beloved son of the community of Beatrice, Nebraska, and loved all the more for his sacrifice on their behalf; this town understood. As the funeral procession left the church enroute to the cemetery, we old Veterans, with as many National Flags mounted on our motorcycles as we could find places to secure them, were included in the long line of vehicles; we almost need not have bothered. Hundreds, thousands of people lined the processional route, everyone with their own Flag; large house flags, small hand-held flags, but nonetheless bravely thrust high in honor. Entire school classes, solemnly watching Darren pass; I didn’t see a single instance of inappropriate behavior out of hundreds of children along the route. There were old Veterans saluting and young children saluting. Uncountable numbers with hands over hearts. Two young girls, 10 to 12 years old or so, stand out in my mind, holding the Colors and saluting with the left hand; not even my old drill sergeant would have corrected them, for he’d have seen their serious expression and the sincerity in their eyes, and known that those salutes were every bit as ‘proper’ as any ever rendered.
In lieu of a Veterans’ Day parade, historically rooted in Armistice Day and generally ‘looking back’ in focus, Beatrice honored one of its youth, just lost; but in so doing, they also paid the highest honor possible to all of those who’ve gone before. They showed that they understood. They don’t take their freedoms for granted. They recognize, and honor, those who paid the price for those freedoms.
My own heart quaked with emotion, during the processional and throughout the graveside service. I was seeing, first-hand, a slice of the American Spirit.
Theodore O’Hara penned a poem to honor fellow Kentuckians killed in the 1846 Mexican War, portions of which are inscribed on placards throughout Arlington and other National Cemeteries. On Arlington’s McClellan Gate is the verse, “ON FAMES ETERNAL CAMPING GROUND THEIR SILENT TENTS ARE SPREAD, AND GLORY GUARDS WITH SOLUMN ROUND THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD”. It’s clearer to me than ever before, after this Veterans’ Day, that the fame and the glory are offered by the living, the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made. I’m a Veteran of Viet Nam, and my brothers and sisters from that conflict will perhaps understand this better than many others, but while I’ve celebrated Veterans’ Day for my Dad, a World War II Veteran, I’ve been a bit of a cynic overall about this holiday; this Veterans’ Day however, while celebrating the life and honoring the sacrifice of another soldier, I truly felt ‘Welcomed Home’. Veterans’ Day isn’t an event; it’s a state of mind, and I know more certainly that, in these United States, not only the Greatest Generation of the World War II era understands that.
I pray that God welcome Darren Howe into Heaven, that He bless Darren’s loved ones with comfort as they deal with their loss, that He blesses the community of Beatrice and all such ‘Heartland’ communities wherever they are located, and that God continue to bless America.