This past week was one I will not soon forget. It really didn't hold any promise for being out of the ordinary when it started. As my farm straddles the county line, I had the honor of going to two different FSA offices to certify my crops and sign up for our rather anemic 2008 farm program. On Monday this took me to Emporia Kansas, where afterwards I purchased a new roto-tiller for the garden, fighting the global food crisis with a hoe has proven to be pretty inefficient. So Mrs. KF would not feel I was neglecting her, I bought her a brand new hoe, made in China, with a bright yellow fiberglass handle, so the next time she leaves it laying next to the garden I will not run over it with the mower.
Wednesday took me to Eureka, to the FSA office there. I had heard for nearly a week about a young soldier from Kansas who had lost his life in Iraq, the TV said he was from Newton, what I did not realize was that his father and grandparents were from Eureka, and he was to be buried in Eureka, the very day I was there. One of the FSA employees had his attention divided between his radio and doing my paperwork, I learned that many of the townspeople intended to line the route to the cemetary and hold American flags to show their respect for this young mans(18 years old) sacrifice.
While I am quick to criticize my government, my love of my nation is unwaivering, and my respect for those who defend it deep. I think you Brits would find that in the middle of the USA, especially in towns of 25000 and less, we are extremely patriotic and honor our military. Although I did not know this young man, I decided that since I was already in Eureka, the right thing for me to do was to pay my respects as well. Eureka is not a large town, about 3000, and the drive from the FSA office to downtown just a few blocks. I must admit a tear came to my eye as I viewed the main street, people were gathering all along it holding flags, and every business with a place to fly one had a flag flying outside of it. The flags at our county courthouse were at half staff, as were all official flags in the state that day. The Patriot Guard was the first to arrive, most of them are vets or ex military riding motorcycles, I was to learn later they numbered 285 that day. They are the result of our very infamous gay hating ex Baptist disbarred lawyer turned preacher Fred Phelps and his tribe of lawyer children, who have decided it is their God-given duty to picket the funerals of fallen soldiers. Not because they are against the war, but because they believe that God is killing these soldiers in retribution for America being tolerant of homosexuals. As our Bill of Rights protects the Phelps clan and their picketing, the Patriot Guard was formed to build a human shield between mourners and the bigoted Phelps and their handful of supporters. Happily on this day they did not show up.
Perhaps 15 minutes after the main body of the Patriot Guard rolled through town, the funeral procession came through, led by a Harvey County Sheriffs car and a Kansas State Trooper. It was a solemn and rather inspiring sight, to see so many turn out with flags for this sad event.
As odd as it may sound, I was moved to go to the cemetary. I think a number of people were like me, they did not know the soldier but felt a need to honor him, because so many people stayed back from the main group of mourners. The Guard formed a square around the gravesite, each man had a large American flag. I counted 220 flags, and I did not get them all counted. Taps was played, a 21 gun salute was fired, a lone piper played Amazing Grace, and an 18 year old was finally laid to rest, halfway round the world from where he lost his life. I happened to turn around and see the stone I was next to was from a WW2 1st Lt. I had to wonder how long it would be before most had forgotten the young man we were burying, and if 60 some odd years in the future we would still be fighting wars and planting young men in our little country cemetaries who had made the ultimate sacrifice halfway round the world for people who hate us.
Vietnam taught us that we can hate the war, but need to love the soldiers fighting it, and there has been a concerted effort since to show soldiers respect. A young major was standing not far from me, I took the opportunity to thank him for his service(this is considered to be appropriate in our nation, I don't know about yours). He was just back from Iraq, and quite moved by the show of support for his fallen brother in arms. A short distance from us was a support vehicle for the Patriot Guard, I also went up to the fellow with it and thanked him, he was a Korean vet. He shook his head and said, "just 18, with his life ahead of him, I hope America knows the price he paid", tears rolled down the old soldiers cheek, and mine as well.
Friday, my extended family travelled 83 miles to the farm of my mothers sister and her husband, to see my cousin off to his deployment, we are all amazed he had not been deployed long ago. I tactfully did not mention Wednesdays events, but it ran through my mind that perhaps my cousin might meet the same fate, and I wondered if I would think it was worth the price we are paying then. Even the most patriotic among us have a limit to the price we are willing to pay.