By SSgt David H.
Saturday May 5, 2007. Day 87 of about 400 on my third trip to the sandbox. It is 0500, I am 5 hours into another 12 hour shift. A full moon is in the air, covered slightly by some passing clouds. It is about 75 degrees with a steady breeze. The moon is bright enough to see off into the distance and the breeze has the sand kicked up a bit so it looks like fog is in the air. I am sitting on the bench outside my maintenance van enjoying the wonderful morning. As I am sitting there I get an uncomfortable feeling.
There is something amiss, it is quiet. Too quiet for being in the middle of two runways at a major logistical base, right smack in the middle of major military operations. Where is the sound of rotors slicing through the air as helicopters take off for their nightly missions? Where is the cargo planes bringing in supplies for the base and surrounding area? The only thing I can hear is the hum of the generators that run all the equipment at our site.
I get up and walk around the protective barriers surrounding my maintenance van so I can get a clear view of the airfield. Once I turn the corner my eyes catch something that is out of place. 500 meters from me I see headlights lighting up the backside of an airplane. As my eyes focus I can make out the outline of a C-130 sitting on the taxiway with all its exterior lights and engines off. I look to the back of the plane to see what is going on. My body tenses up and my heart jumps as I realize what I am looking at. It is what we call a fallen angel ceremony.
At the back the C-130 the tail ramp is lowered all the way down to the ground. On both sides of the ramp is 5 Marines standing at the position of attention facing inboard towards each other. Just past the Marines a van sits. Its back doors open and 8 more Marines standing there in two lines of four facing the airplane. In between the Marines is a big sliver box covered by an American Flag. It is the body of a Marine who died and is now on his way back to his family over 7000 miles away.
I watch as the Marines slowly march the casket to the back of the plane, up the ramp, and into the cargo area. I find myself standing at the position of attention holding back the tears. I do not know who is in that steel box but the fact that another brother or sister in arms has made the ultimate sacrifice so others can live free has hit me hard. This is not the first time I have seen this ceremony nor will it be my last. I am not sure why this particular ceremony is effecting more than the others I have watched but it has. The 8 Marines return from inside the plane, marching slowing, just as they came in but without the precious cargo they carried. The detail of Marines stop, face each other and then all the Marines present take one step backwards, turns about and walks away. Lights on the airplane come on. The ramp on the back of the plane is raised and closed. The engines come alive as the crew in the plane are preparing for the next leg of their mission. Somewhere back in the United States a family waits for their loved one to be returned to them.
I stand and watch as the plane completes its pre-flight checks and taxies to the runway. Behind the C-130 the sky is getting brighter. The sun will soon rise and it is the beginning of a new day. The C-130 reaches the end of the runway, turns around, powers up its engines and rolls down the runway. A couple thousand feet later it is airborne and passes in front of me at about 50 feet off the ground. Goodbye, so long, thank you.
Since 9/11 every single American has been touched somehow by the war on terrorism. Everyone has a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or knows somebody that has had to leave their lives back home to come fight for the right to live without fear. Memorial Day is just a few weeks away. The official start of summer. Pools open, people have BBQ’s, hit the beach, go for a motorcycle ride, go camping, maybe watch a race. Summer time is here and it is time to have fun. Most do not realize or take the time to think of the true meaning behind the holiday. It is holiday created as a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all. Please set aside a few moments and remember those who have fought to give us our freedoms. Remember those who are away from their families continuing the legacy of our great nation to help those in need and protect our right to live without fear. Thank a Veteran, maybe say a prayer. Anything to keep the spirit of this holiday alive.
(cross-posted to Bama Angels)