Standing at attention as strains of Taps drifted across the cemetery, I sifted back through the events of the past month … the early-morning phone call from the young man’s father, tearfully telling me the news that his son, a Green Beret and AOS graduate, had been killed in action in Jordan the previous night … the request to hold a memorial service on campus in his honor … meetings with his family, who, dazed, tired, and broken, were trying desperately to hold it together … the service itself, attended by over a thousand people and covered by several news stations … the speeches, articulate and heartfelt, that so accurately portrayed the young man ... his unit, proud and disciplined, but deeply affected nonetheless.
My mind snapped back to the present—his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. As Taps faded away and the ceremony ended, each man from his unit, one by one, paid his own personal respects at the casket.
As I lingered there, two images preoccupied me. The first was a scene from the memorial service the previous month—a moment only I experienced. The service closed with the playing of The Ballad of the Green Beret—a song during which the Green Berets always stand at attention. Having asked the men from the unit if everyone was supposed to stand for the song, they replied that the unit had to, but most others usually did not. I told them that I would simply ask everyone to stand, and the audience complied with my request. The moment came as the song opened. Everyone in the audience was facing the stage, and, thus, facing me. Peering at the young man’s unit down in front, I could just barely make out a slight glimmer emanating from the face of every soldier in the dim light. Standing at rapt attention, each man looked the same—poised, erect, and completely still, but each with this gleam on his cheeks. And then I suddenly realized what that glimmer was—trails of tears for their fallen brother. Because I was facing the audience, only I could see it, and I will never forget it.
The other image had happened earlier that morning as I greeted one of the young man’s sisters when I arrived at the visitor center at Arlington. When his sister saw me, she came right over, and, referring to the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington DC, she said, “Mr. Kelly, the last time I was here at Arlington, it was with you; and the last time Jimmy was here, it was with you, too. Thank you for coming today to see him all the way through.” With that she dissolved into tears, buried her face into my shoulder, and hung on.
Today, Veterans Day, is a day to remember and to thank those who have served our country in the line of duty. My grandfather was a veteran of World War I, and my father was a veteran of World War II. As has been my custom for the past thirty-two years, I will wear my father’s dog tags in his honor; I also will wear my grandfather’s pocket watch in his honor.
Today we do not glorify war, but we do remember—and thank—those, like Staff Sgt. Jimmy Moriarty, who have sacrificed so much for the countries and causes in which they believed. Furthermore, we remember with gratitude and compassion the families and friends who have suffered because of war. Thank you, veterans—past and present—for what you have done for us all.