Just a "zebra" trying my best to live life to the fullest with EDS and POTS...and loving the ride.

In Honor of Memorial Day: An Essay to Remember

Written by Katie. Posted in Family, Favorites, Inspiration

I have talked with quite a few family members about the power and emotion that is evoked from this piece.  I have gone back and re-read it over and over again.  Some of you have already read it, but I know that some of you have not.  My sister’s boyfriend, Gabe, had posted this essay as a comment on a post I did about “What are awesome things in your world?”  After reading his comment for like the 37484 time tonight, I finally decided that it belonged in it’s own post.  It is something that I want to document so that I can go back and read it whenever I need a dose of what honor is all about.

“I will never leave a fallen comrade.” What does this sentence mean? I would like to share a story with you about my experience of escorting a Soldier home to his final resting place. You may or may not know, but a Soldier will be escorted by another all the way to his/her grave. This can be quite a humbling, if not life changing, experience. I have had that honor and I would like to share with you some bits and pieces of memories that I recall from that day:

My escort duties took me on flights from Maryland to New York, by way of North Carolina. This indirect route was necessary in order to minimize travel time; it was chosen with the family members in mind. After briefly separating from the Soldier to maneuver the Maryland airport security, a corporate flight manager swiftly escorted me through the airport. She insisted I be with the Soldier as soon as possible. We were later joined by her supervisor, the regional flight director, on the tarmac while loading the casket onto the plane. As I finished my salute, I could see the many people at the boarding gate glued to the windows. I assure you that those people witnessing the honor given to that Soldier have spoken about that experience to their loved ones.

As I boarded, a flight attendant burst into tears. “I have seen too many escorts on board my aircraft,” she said to me. She then hugged me and slipped away, wiping her tears.  We transited in North Carolina. As I finished saluting the casket during its loading onto the New York-bound plane, I was glad to see the captain of the flight had joined me in my salute. I was also glad to see strangers on the flight deck had also stopped and given their respects.

Upon our arrival in New York, the local police escorted the family members onto the tarmac so that they could see their beloved son deplane. One can only imagine the strings that were pulled in order for that to happen. More than five baggage handlers came to my aid to carry the casket onto the hearse. Despite the bitter cold and the absence of words exchanged, each one of them took off their gloves in order to leave the flag and casket untarnished.

Delaying the funeral convoy is never an option, so I quickly got into the hearse to escort the Soldier to the funeral home. I made a half-hearted comment to one of the TSA agents to take care of my luggage, not expecting him to still be guarding it when I returned several hours later. As we exited the airport, a formation of firefighters rendered their salutes. I tried to imagine the conversation between the fire chief and whoever it was that told him about the convoy.

“I will never leave a fallen comrade.” What does this sentence mean? How far does this sentence go? Think of all those people that were touched by that Soldier’s homecoming. Although they were all strangers to that Soldier, each of them will always remember how this country honored him. As one of my sergeants explained to me, the sentence “I will never leave a fallen comrade” is part of a promise. It is a promise from Soldier to Soldier, from the commander to the commanded, from the United States Government to all servicemen and women. It is a promise that we are never alone; a promise that despite your death, a battle-buddy will be with you until you reach your final resting place; and a promise that when you get there you will be honored by this country.

So, I am unsure if that essay was appropriate for this venue. I can only say that when I read your blog request, this is the first thing that popped into my head…So, how does this relate? Well, you see Katie…WE…are your fellow Soldiers. Through your toughest times….We will be there. We will never leave you behind. SO TROOPS…I urge you all to live the warrior ethos day in and day out! Promise each other that each of us will never ever be alone!

~Gabriel Affandy

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Comments (6)

  • Dave Mathews


    There is a Kevin Bacon Movie on the same subject. Taking Chance which is about a Marine Detachment who’s job it is to escort a fallen comrade home. Wonderful tear jerking movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtmiLdzzgGE


    • Katie


      I’ll have to check that out, Mr. Mathews! Thanks. (Good to see you today…Now we must figure out a way you can work with me in the morning sometime 🙂


      • Gabe Affandy


        Everyone should watch that movie (“Taking Chance”). When I reported to the Casualty Assistance Office for my escort duty, the CAO coordinator asked me if I had done an escort before and if I knew what was going to happen? When I said no he recommended that I watch the movie to help me prepare. He also gave me regs to read too. I was shocked and happy that scenes in the movie rang true!


    • Merrianne


      I too saw the movie Taking Chance. Both the movie and this essay are very moving.


  • frances Affandy


    Your father, grandfather + great great grandfather would be by your side + we are proud of you, Gabriel. Thanks, Katie.


  • Ron Gross


    I have read this essay several times – through tears. I have been at the very beginning of to many soldiers’ journey home, desperately trying an sometimes failing to keep them alive. I have personally draped the flag of the United States over them in the presence of my team and their battle buddies – their military family – and prayed. If not caring for another, I have always stayed with that soldier until their journey home began, and I have had the difficult time of speaking to their brethren and their loved ones to assure them that their loved one did not die alone, and that their loved one was surrounded by people who cared and respected them as a soldier and as a beloved friend.

    Thank you for writing this, and for putting into words what few have ever seen, and what even fewer will ever understand.

    I will never leave a fallen comrade. And neither will anyone else that ever served with the fallen.

    Ronald Gross
    COL (ret), MC, USAR


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