HOW WE HONOR OUR DEAD!
There are times in the history of an organization that absolutely make a statement! In the history of the Kentuckiana Detachment there have also been defining moments! The most memorable, of course, was the construction and dedication of the stained glass window which is prominently displayed at the Chapel of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Chapel at Parris Island, South Carolina. While that was a very public display of our capabilities and reflected our Espirit de Corps, the Detachment has made a profound albeit private statement of our own. I refer to a letter offered by a senior officer of the U. S. Army to his old friend, General Cody (the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army) (equivalent of our ACMC), regarding his experience as he landed at Louisville International Airport on the evening of 7 Nov 2006. With his permission, I am publishing his comments through our Newsletter. The following letter was written by a retired U.S. Army colonel, who witnessed the return of the remains of Lance Corporal James E. Brown, USMC, at Louisville International Airport on November 7, 2006. Lance Corporal Brown was killed in action in Iraq and his body was being returned by the Marine Corps for burial in Owensville, Indiana.
“I had the privilege tonight of observing how the USMC brings home their dead. The thought hit me that I have no idea, nor have I ever seen how our Soldiers are treated. I just hope we are at least as respectful.
“Tonight as we arrived at the Louisville airport, the aircraft captain announced that there was a USMC Sgt on board the aircraft who was on escort duty. The captain asked all onboard to remain seated until the Sgt had left the aircraft. As we pulled into our gate I observed a lot of people moving around in the shadows. I naturally assumed it was the detail preparing to receive the body. What actually happened was quite impressive and quite a testament to the Corps and to the City of Louisville.
“The receiving detail stood up consisting of a color guard with US flag, USMC flag and the 8 casket bearers, the Officer in Charge, several other Non Commissioned Officers and 3 Marines in utility uniforms. I must admit I was taken back by the presence of the 3 Marines in utilities, as all other Marines were in dress blue uniforms. I later was able to figure out the purpose. Additionally, there was an honor guard from the Marine Corps League (I believe they are called that, something the Army cannot replicate) and a piper. Three Delta Airlines pilots joined the Marines in the formation. I assumed they were former servicemen or current reservists.
“Following the”off-load”of all the baggage, the cargo hold remained open. Finally the 3 Marines in utility uniforms were sent into the hold to prepare the casket with a flag and to position the casket. This was a somewhat special moment as only Marine hands touched that casket and it was planned that way. I have no idea if it was treated the same in Atlanta, but I can tell you only Marine hands touched that casket. As the casket was lowered halfway down the trolley and stopped, the casket bearers took their positions. Then the Marine Corps League followed behind them in two ranks, one on each side. They all presented arms as the casket came out of the aircraft. Then there was stillness.
“As if scripted, from across the airport came a long line of cars with blinking lights and the hearse. Once they were in position, the family was escorted to the casket. It was probably around 30 members led by what I assumed was a very young widow and her young son. For about 10 minutes the family mingled around the casket while the Marines and members of the League stood at attention. Finally, the family was led back to the hearse.
“Then the casket was lowered the remainder of the way and the casket bearers moved through a cordon of the Marine Corps League folks to the hearse, while the bagpiper piped “Amazing Grace.”
“There were about 70 of us who had just left the aircraft, still in the terminal watching this entire
ceremony for about 40 minutes. I will say, not a dry eye in the place and many, many snivels. The Corps really treated their own with respect.
“I have no idea who the dead Marine was. I assume he was a Sergeant, as his escort was a Sergeant. I don’t know who his family was, nor if they had any influence. I just know the USMC treated him with total respect and the City of Lousville did also. I expect they treat all Marines with equal respect.
As the young Sgt escorting the body left the aircraft and walked by me, I said, “Semper Fi, Marine.” As I have been many times before, I was struck that in 231 years our Army has been unable to produce something similar. Somehow, Hooah just doesn’t seem right at a time like this
“I trust all of our services do just as well. If not, shame on us. These kids deserve all the respect our Army and country can provide. The Corps and the City of Louisville did themselves proud night………..in my misty eyes.”
Johnny W. Brooks
Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)
Phenix City, Alabama