CORONA, CA, US
SGT, CO A, 1ST BN, 16TH INFANTRY, FORT RILEY, KS 66442
10/03/2009, WASHINGTON, DC
Six pairs of mirror shined black shoes marched in unison. Small deliberate steps taken to an exacting beat. Three pairs faced the other three pairs and suddenly strong hands inside bright white gloves grasped the handles aside of the American flag draped, ultra-shiny metal casket. The six pairs of shoes now faced the same direction and began walking with the precision of a Swiss watch movement. Three on one side, three on the other.
My family and I followed the foot procession down a winding sidewalk. Slowly…painfully we walked. Heads down, arm in arm to form a human chain of love and remembrance. Nearing the amphitheater we saw so many people in the seating area all standing and watching the sad progression. Finally the detail stopped at a central point down in front of the seats. If this were an amphitheater for live performances, the casket would be center stage. With great precision and expertise, the casket was set upon a stand.
An Army chaplain reminded everyone that the service here today was to honor a hero. Then he gave a sermon which actually was quite positive and reassuring. The official bugler played a couple of traditional religious tunes like Amazing Grace. The chaplain gave the podium to General Carter Ham who spoke loudly, clearly and proudly as he announced that he was there to award the Bronze Star medal and the Purple Heart medal to the slain soldier in recognition of meritorious actions in the performance of his duties. The medals were given to the soldier’s wife Sarah, mother and his father Marvin.
A few moments later a man standing over by a serene, fountain fed lake which was the backdrop to the whole scene began to play the bagpipes. It was not only beautiful but very appropriate since Ryan was most proud of his Irish heritage and loved the sound of Bagpipes. Again, the soldiers stood down…not moving…not blinking. Straight backs, chins thrust high and their right hands to their heads in respectful salute to the fallen soldier. The original six soldiers returned and repeating their perfect drill, just as slowly marched the casket back up to the hearse. Once more with great discipline placed it gently back into the hearse for the short drive up to the field reserved for heroes.
A shovel was offered to my brother Marvin…Ryan’s father, to scoop up the first heaping of dirt and throw down on his son’s casket in a final farewell. Then Sarah was given the shovel allowing her to also give Ryan a final send off. Then it was over. Over completely. Now he was gone. My mother, Ryan’s grandmother told me as we hung onto each other for support and walked slowly back to our vehicles, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than anything”.
Ryan would have loved his ceremony. He was very proud of what he did, and he did it well. Since Ryan was a young child, he wanted to be in the Army. From all accounts told by his fellow soldiers and by ranking officers, Ryan was a good leader. He made Sergeant in quick time. He was a prolific Marksman. As dedicated a soldier as he was, he still would tell the truth from his standpoint. A week before his Bradley was struck by the IED, Ryan talked to his Aunt Judy by phone and said that it was like hell there. Hot, dirty, go to sleep dodging bullets and wake up the same way. In between more of the same. Yet, he was devoted to his job and obeyed orders and did whatever was commanded of him.
Indeed, with all of his doubts and dislikes about Iraq, Ryan knew there was a purpose for being there, and in typical fashion for Ryan, volunteered on November 8, 2003 for the duty of searching out IEDs along a stretch of highway in the Sunni Triangle…one of the deadliest pieces of dirt on this Earth. He knew that if they were successful, many more soldiers would be able to advance without fear of being blown up. And that day is the day Ryan’s and all of our lives took a dark, cold and sorrowful turn for the worse. The rest can be summed up on web pages and in memorial services for Ryan. But for our family, Ryan is still in our hearts and always will be in our hearts and thoughts. We still grieve although some days are better than others. We all try to keep busy so as not to think about all of this, even though when your head hits the pillow and it’s just you and your thoughts, it’s hard to think about anything else. But that is good too. It keeps Ryan close to us.
The best summation I can give of his short life is that the last three years of his life, with Sarah his wife, and his own friends, and his career Ryan was the happiest he’d ever been. He was living his own life with people he loved and chose to spend time with. And he knew that above all he was and still remains… the good soldier.
Ryan’s memorial web site: http://ryanyoung.us/about.htm