Thursday, June 15, 2006

Impressions From a Marine's Funeral

This bitch read a comment to an earlier post and was unable to find the words to express my feelings. A certain Jill C. McCoy of Chicago, Illinois had commented that Marine Cpl. Ryan Cummings had been killed in Iraq.

In all the debate over the who, what, when and where of war we often overlook the individuals behind the numbers.

Jill is not a blogger and asked that this bitch post a piece she wrote about her impressions of Marine Cpl. Cummings’ funeral. This piece touched me deeply…as the granddaughter, daughter, niece and cousin of men and women who served in peacetime and in war…and as a human being.

Anti-war does not mean anti-soldier…not to me.

May you be blessed, Marine Cpl. Ryan Cummings, for we are all worthy.

One day we will study war no more…

Impressions From a Marine’s Funeral
Jill C. McCoy

My Beloved’s “best friend since third grade” got the news last week – her nephew, Marine Cpl. Ryan Cummings, had been killed in Iraq. He had been on patrol when the platoon’s vehicle was hit, likely by an IED; Ryan died of massive head trauma when the vehicle rolled.

His body was flown to Delaware and prepared for an open casket service. The primary visitation ran Monday, June 12, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; with the burial service scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Part of the burial service would be the transport from the funeral home to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Joliet, Illinois, about 50 miles each way.

Ahlgrim Funeral Home in Schaumberg, Illinois has been in operation since about 1906, and has become just one more, slightly incongruous storefront in a vast sea of strip malls at the far edge of what for many years was the largest indoor Mall in the country. As rush-hour traffic in Chicago ranges from frustrating to dismal, it took about an hour to go from work (in the Northern suburbs) to the funeral home (in the Western suburbs).

I was worried as I crept along (directions in hand, at 5:30 in the heart of rush hour) that I would miss the Ahlgrim sign in the midst of Furniture Stores, Babies “R” Us, and acres of Car Dealerships that is that part of the world.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Even though Schaumberg’s heart is made of concrete and White Hen Pantries, it still beats. And it breaks for a son come home this way.

The leather-clad, tattooed, heavily-mustached Mountain Man poured onto the Harley next to me at the red light had two huge American Flags cross-mounted to the back of his hard-tail, so they would fly in the breeze as he rode, and hung well above the pavement as he sat waiting for the light to change. The Patriot Riders were out in force. A row of gleaming motorcycles were parked across the 8-lane roadway from the funeral home, and a stream of bikers carrying American an Marine Corps flags crossed traffic respectfully stopped -in mid-rush hour, mind you - by local police.

Three officers in safety vests controlled traffic throughout the seven hours of the Visitation from their squad car parked on the median, and in this most impatient of commuter cities (Chicago has among the safest but rudest drivers in the country) nobody honked a horn.

Several hundred people turned out for Ryan’s viewing. Ahlgrim has a large parking lot, but many of the younger folks parked across the street near the Bikers, to make sure their elders would not have to cross such a stretch of road. I parked a long ways in the back, then walked past the honor guard of Patriot Riders, Ryan’s friends from high-school nervously smoking in their black like Goths outside a sold-out concert, elderly women with large beaded American flag pins affixed to their lapels, and heartbreakingly young soldiers – Marines, Sailors, and Army – grouped quietly and uncomfortably outside.

Inside were more family, more friends, more soldiers, including a pair of Marines rigidly “at ease” on either side of Ryan’s casket. Every 15 minutes another pair of young Marines would march forward in step from either side of the chair rows, ceremonially salute and relieve the Casket Guard, and take their place. This occurs in rotation from when the casket arrived at the Funeral Home the weekend past until they would close the casket at 10 a.m. Tuesday and carry Ryan into the hearse. Marines take care of their own.

Around the room were large poster boards of photos and remembrances. A side alcove held a screen, projector, and repeating slide show of Ryan from baby photos onward, set to music. To each side of the room and around the casket were arrayed large displays heavy with flowers, red-white-and-blue ribbons, and other mementos of Ryan’s life and service. Two older Marines, sergeants by their ribbons, stood at the back of the room. I know each family is assigned a specially trained Marine who supports the family in any way possible through the grieving time, so I assume one of the sergeants was assigned to the Cummings and the other oversaw the Casket rotation. Older men and a few women, some in uniform from service past and others with VFW caps, moved through the room as part of the mourners.

Offering my respects to Ryan was a reminder of what 22 years old looks like in a casket. This Marine, on his third tour of duty, who chose to be Infantry, built medical facilities in Africa, offered relief after the Tsunami, served and then volunteered to return to Iraq, was just a young, small, blond boy lying there quietly.

Hard as that was, there was harder. Ryan’s buddies came from all corners of the country. Young Marines drove in from Oregon, from Arizona, among others, to pay their respects. Those of his platoon that could be there gathered at one point at Ryan’s casket, arms around each other to support themselves in their grief and their injuries, with their canes, their crutches, and their courage, to weep. Then they left. Another Marine, an officer weather-beaten and sunburned, in his desert fatigues right down to the boots (just off a plane? O’Hare is only 20 minutes away) came up the drive, clutching his wife’s hand tightly. He stayed a short time, then left, walking away quickly.

Hardest of all were those visitors in civilian dress, lapel buttons reading “Marine Mom” or “Marine Dad” with fixed expressions of sorrow and their own personal thousand-mile stares. They offered condolences with guilt oozing from them in waves, carefully avoiding the obvious relief; a Marine Honor Guard was not standing over their child in that casket. Of all the mourners, all the inadequate expressions of sorrow (are there ever adequate ones?) from family and friends, the Marine Parents’ was the deepest. They were comforting their own comrades in arms, just as Ryan’s buddies had done. They knew the fear, and the grief. The Book of Remembrance was filled with notes from Marine Parents, and Former Military Parents, and – worst of all – Military Former Parents. “In sorrow for your time and in remembrance of my son SFC Brent Adams, KIA 12/1/05 Ramadi.” “Our sincerest gratitude for their bravery, the family of Cpl. Billy Taylor KIA outside Fallujah 11/30/05.”

Many writers both online ended their written wishes with the Marine motto: “Semper Fi,” short for “Semper Fidelis,” or “Always Faithful.” I’ve been enjoying the freedoms of this country for 41 years; in this time Marines have fought and died in a half-dozen wars and dozens of “participatory exercises.” The Marines are, as ever, “Always Faithful” to the U.S. and its citizens. Right now Ryan is being carried as part of a full Military procession, families in mini-vans, and a large, flag-waving Motorcycle Gang south on Illinois 53 to his internment. I don’t know if the slow procession will get honked at, cut apart by traffic patterns, buzzed by idiots in hot rods, or picketed at graveside by that obscene preacher from Topeka. I hope Ryan will be carried into his resting place with the dignity and honor he and his family deserve. I am grateful to the Bikers. I am grateful to the Marines.

I am grateful to Ryan and his family.

I am grateful.

Jill C. McCoy


thatfarmgirl said...

2,500 deaths and each with a story behind them. So heartbreaking, but thank you for sharing.

christine mtm said...

i have tears in my eyes and a heart that is breaking. thank you for posting this.

Lisa said...

Indeed. I do thank you, ABB, for sharing this with us. I have to remind myself that the world needs my peaceful and optimistic energy rather than my anger and fear.

Thank you, Jill, for sharing your insight and emotion.

(Plumb run out of words and that's usual for me)


Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks Jill.


Juli said...

Very powerful, very sad. Thanks for posting this. Thanks for posting everything you post.

Anonymous said...

Something I never understood is why the widow, or the mother, just sat there during the military funeral, and always just accepts the flag when she gets it handed to her. Or, let me put it another way. The military dresses up wonderfully, and all the bugling, and saluting, and ritual is cool and everything, but the cold, hard fact is that your child is now a hunk of meat, and the Marine Corps, or whoever, are the ones who made it happen, and now here they are, turning his funeral into one more propoganda piece for themselves. If I were a mother, and my son had gotten killed, I would tell the Marines to fuck off and totally not participate in their little puppet show. And if I had to, when the time came for some twenty-five year old to hand me a little piece of folded cloth , I would either spit in his face or puke.

Weasel said...

I am trying not to cry right now. This hits way too close to home.

My S.O.'s youngest brother is in the service (Army reserve, iirc) and is stationed in Iraq. We are living in fear that we will get the news that something bad has happened and we'll need to attend a funeral.

I don't think I can survive a second one with my sanity in tact.

We lost my heartmate's middle brother just this past December. He died of cancer. It nearly tore me apart; I hate to think of how badly it hurt my better half.

I don't know if we can go through a second funeral. I'm praying that it doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wouldnt put his name the post he/she sent... I wonder why?

Puppet show? it is called respect for the one who served. He volunteered his service and gave his life for people like you, so you can go on expressing your opinion, no matter how f'd up it is.

You probabily never even considered giving of yourself so others can have.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is one of those muslim fakes out to demean any AMERICAN institution. Their time is at hand...

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