Up until November 2009, I had never attended a military funeral. I have been fortunate in that I have never had a close relative serving in an active war. The closest relatives have been a couple of cousins and all have returned home healthy.
So, in 2009, I attended the funeral of my great uncle, John Bernard Gage. My extended family is exceptionally close and Uncle Bun as we called him was a familiar presence. I knew him to be someone who had a wonderful dry sense of humor with a sly grin. I knew him to be a master mechanic from the stories from my father and other family members. I knew he served in World War II...but it wasn't until I was a bit older that I was aware of where he served and what he did. When he died and I helped his son write his obit, I found more about his military service. Uncle Bun served under Joe Foss, flying a Corsair in China and the South Pacific.
While I was sitting in that room listening to the service, I experienced for the first time the sight of the flag as the centerpiece and heard for the first time Taps and a military salute for someone that I knew and loved. I can't explain how moving the experience was. Even thought we sat in a room and didn't see the bugler or the guns (they were probably recorded), I still felt the pride in his service and the sorrow at his loss.
So, it wasn't until Fall of 2013, that I again experienced a military service. This time it was for my boss's father, Frank W. Sullivan. This was a man that I was fond of and knew that he had served proudly. First as a young radioman in a bomber who was shot down. He spent the rest of WW II as a POW. Then he served in the National Guard and served in Korea. Sully was the commander of his unit...and my great uncle was his executive officer. This time I sat out in a cemetery and saw the pageantry of the soldiers posing at attention and shooting their military salute. The bugler stood off to the side and Taps was heard.
Unfortunately it was only a few weeks later when I was at my next military funeral. My great uncle had been suffering from cancer for 13 years and he had died from its ravages. The young soldiers stood at attention and the bugle once again played Taps. I am not sure what part of the service hits me the most - the military salute, playing of "Taps" or the folding and presentation of the flag.
I am glad that I have never had to lose a close relative during war. I think that it is a measure of our respect for military service that the same honors afforded a younger soldier returning home to be buried with honor is afford an old soldier who returned home decades ago. Whether they are young currently serving soldiers performing their funeral duties or old veterans helping to send off their comrades in arms, there is a comfort in the tradition.