Say thank you to our veterans

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- "I didn't know how important this was until now."

These were the words spoken to me by a family member of a World War II Navy veteran following a short ceremony at the family home on the outskirts of Spokane Aug. 11.

In September 1943, just shy of his 18th birthday, this veteran enlisted in the United States Navy and for the next three years sailed throughout the Pacific, including Okinawa and the Philippines, where he earned a number of combat medals. Like many of the veterans of World War II, he didn't talk much about his service.

Now his family had gathered, most from the east coast, to join the veteran's wife at their custom-built log home he had just completed and where, after only two nights, he died.

A friend of the family, an Army Reserve NCO, arranged for military honors to be rendered at the family home. Joining us was another Army Reserve NCO, a Navy Reserve Lieutenant, a retired Army officer who plays taps at numerous funerals and graveside ceremonies in the area, and a firing party consisting of two Navy reservists and one active-duty Navy Seaman. We were Army, Air Force and Navy; active duty, reserve and retired; officer and enlisted corps.

One of the family members asked me if it is standard practice to have such a variety of participation from the various military services. I answered "No, this team represents the volunteers who were available and willing to assist."

The official party stood out of sight as the family was seated in the shade on the front porch. On a table was displayed a photo of the beloved family man. Next to his photo was a shadow box displaying his medals. His 8-year-old granddaughter stood by, patiently holding the leash of the small family dog. I began the ceremony with an introduction describing the sequence of events and noted that while the ceremony would be short in time, it would be long in significance. I told them it was an honor to participate and led them in an opening prayer.

The atmosphere was very quiet as the Army representatives came forward and
unfurled the flag. The three-man Navy firing team provided a 21-gun salute
and the bugler played taps. Tears were wiped from eyes. The flag was folded,
the Navy Lieutenant presented it to the veteran's widow, and the ceremony
concluded. Family members thanked us and we departed.

How does a nation say thank you to a military veteran on a Saturday afternoon in the Washington countryside? With a few volunteers, a flag, a firing salute, and the playing of taps. We know how important this is.