Saturday, July 4, 2009


I got this story in an email today from EBC list, the email list that my church down at school has. I got tears in my eyes as I read this. It was a great reminder of what July 4th is truly about.


I wanted to share something that just happened tonight. I was sitting
at the gate in the Washington-Baltimore airport waiting on my flight to
Charlotte. The plane was at the gate. While we were waiting for the
attendant to announce the boarding for our flight, I saw about a dozen
Transportation Security Agency uniformed personnel head to the departure
ramp. I was concerned there was a problem, meaning a delay. Just what
I needed!

Several of us moved to the observation window to see if we could see
anything going on outside. That is when I saw a lone uniformed Marine
standing at the bottom of the ramp leading from the cargo hold of the
aircraft to the ground. I thought to myself how this small delay for me
was nothing compared to the sacrifice a Marine and his family made for our

There were more and more people gathering to see what we were looking at
down on the tarmac. The people were quiet, but not silent. I looked
down the concourse and saw other small groups gathered close to the other
observation windows looking down at the conveyor and the small detail of
Marines that had appeared. They were part of the funeral detail or an
Honor Guard. In the distance there was a hearse, another vehicle, and a
police car. As they drove to the bottom of the ramp, I knew the remains of a
Marine, in a flag draped casket, were about to be moved from the
aircraft and into the hearse. It is customary for uniformed members of the armed
services to salute any American flag as it passes...especially when it
is covering the remains of one of our fallen warriors.

The people standing around me were mostly civilians, but I could tell
they wanted to be respectful, they just did not know how. I had no idea if
that Marine's family was down below in one of the vehicles. I
couldn't have the family, or those Marines, look up and see a bunch of people standing
from above...staring. When I saw the pall bearers (Marines) move to the
bottom of the ramp, I had to do something.

It has been four years since I retired from the Army, but duty called.
I turned and faced everyone in the terminal, and in my loudest command
voice, I told everyone the remains of a Marine were about to be unloaded from
the aircraft, and it is customary for everyone to stand and be silent as the
body is moved. Believe it or not.everybody, as far as I could see,
stood up and the entire terminal became quiet. I then said as loudly as I could,
that all current and former service members, in or out of uniform, were
authorized to render the hand salute, and all civilians were to place
their hand over their hearts. As soon as the tip of the flag draped coffin
appeared, I bellowed out "Pre-sent...ARMS" and you could hear
a pin drop except for the multitude of arms going over their hearts. The entire
terminal was talking, no announcements over the PA,
silence...only silence.

The casket traveled down the ramp. All the US Air employees servicing
the aircraft and unloading baggage stopped and stood silently with their
hands over their hearts. The police officer was saluting. The Marines picked
up the casket and placed it gently into the hearse, then closed the rear

Inside the terminal, I gave the command to "Or-Der Arms".
When I turned around, there were literally hundreds and hundreds of people standing
silently...all over the all the gates on our side of the
concourse, as well as all the gates on the opposite side. I noticed
every woman, of child bearing age either had tears in her eyes, or running
down their cheeks...and a lot of fathers did too.

I was taken back. People still care. During the next 10 minutes, a lot
of former service members, fathers of soldiers, and a few moms came and
thanked me for letting them know what to do. I didn't do anything compared
to that Marine. People want to be led to do what is right.

America still cares. America still has gratitude. The American spirit
is not dead. We don't need to apologize to anyone for who we are.

I don't know who that Marine was, where he served, or how he died.
All I know is that he raised his right arm, took the oath, put on that
uniform, and did his duty. That's good enough for me. I don't know
how he died, or where he was going. All I know is that his dreams for a better life are
over. Somewhere tonight there is a grieving wife, or mother, or
father...and their pain has just begun. I began this evening concerned
that I might be inconvenienced. Tonight I am safe, my family is safe, the
worst thing that might happen to me is a little inconvenience. I am safe
because of the sacrifices that Marine made. I am safe due to the sacrifices
that all our brothers in arms have made since 1776.

His duty is over. Our duty is not. It is not our duty to simply stand
and pay respect as a fallen soldier passes. Our duty is to remain steadfast
that our Armed Forces not be committed to harm's way recklessly,
that they be properly housed, trained, and led. We need to do our duty to provide
our young men and women with the best equipment, not simply with weapons and
armor that is "good enough".

I wish I knew the family of that Marine to say thanks. I wish I could
let them know that for a few minutes, in an airport terminal of one of the
busiest airports in the United States of America, a group of Americans
rendered an honor to their son. I doubt it could take the edge off
their loss, but I think it wouldn't hurt.

It made me think. It made us all reflect for a few minutes. Gratitude.

Thank you brave Marine for one last gift...Hooah...Semper Fi.

Ken Robertson
LTC, USAR, Retired Reserve


Anonymous July 24, 2009 at 1:52 PM  

Wow, Tammy! Thanks for putting this online! Tears came to my eyes as I read it. What a wonderful tribute to an "unknown soldier."