This September I will celebrate my 30threunion with hundreds of other West Point classmates who graduated in 1981. One of our traditions is to meet in the Cadet Chapel for a memorial service remembering our deceased classmates. Darryl will read twenty two names and then finish with Daren Hidalgo, a 2009 graduate killed in Afghanistan. Daren is the son of our classmate Jorge. Somber air will mark the mention of each friend. But in the hush of those granite, shadowed halls it will be a different hurt that salutes a son of our own.
Step after step in unison they marched, accenting the weight of each boot upon the carpet so that everyone in that banquet room could hear. Not an eye wandered, each man in his dress uniform staring straight ahead as they slowly moved across the assembled guests. Near a small round table, the squad leader halted them and faced them to the center. Then he moved to the second man and slowly saluted him, before taking from his outstretched hands the folded flag. In return, the one no longer carrying his nation’s colors, saluted. Next, the sergeant marched in silence to the empty table and placed the folded flag upon it. Returning, he aligned himself in front of the next man in line. From this one’s hands, he took another folded flag. Instead of saluting as before, he turned to his right and waited while the last man in formation moved to join him. Slowly the two unfolded the mostly black flag. Then, with reverence and precision, the younger soldier snapped the flag in place on a thin pole, beside the empty table set for one. Across the bottom of that flag were printed the words, “You are not forgotten.”
It was the beginning of day four of a head cold that felt like a nonstop faucet leak through my eyes. I went through enough Kleenex to carpet a football field. Now it is standard practice in my Army organization to offer chapel service to any interested soldiers on Sunday. For some reason, our higher headquarters did not plan a service for this conference. So not only was my body weak, I was spiritually hungry for time with other saints to worship.
Isaiah 42:13—The LORD advances like a warrior; He stirs up His zeal like a soldier. He shouts, He roars aloud, He prevails over His enemies.
For those who believe the military is an evil profession or who decry the wearing of a uniform and the responsibility that comes with it, please consider these thoughts.
The Last 100 Yards is the National Infantry Museum’s signature exhibit. Figures cast from current soldiers make up the life-like scenes representing eight wars fought by Americans. As guests make their way into the museum, they walk up a 100-yard-long gently inclining ramp, which signifies the infantry’s role in taking the last 100 yards of any battle. As I walked the ramp with four other officers, the sights, sounds and solemn feel of the exhibit breathed sacrifice. We had already progressed part way when Mr. Talley, an elderly guide, asked if he could share with us the significance of what we were seeing. He proudly discussed the detailed planning and symbolism behind each section. He shared of the tears and the deep emotion felt by many veterans and their families who visited the museum just outside Fort Benning, Georgia, in the past two months since its opening.
Recently I had the opportunity to go back for my 25th college reunion. On a beautiful Friday morning we met in the cadet chapel to honor in a memorial service our classmates who have passed away. Dave Mead, my old roommate, planned within the service the opportunity for people to come up to the microphone and share memories of those who had died. Mike Meese was one of many who walked up and paid tribute to our departed comrades. Mike shared a brief story about John Hennessey, a fellow Company D2 member.