George “Mick” Leon Smith ~ Arlington National Cemetery

I didn’t take a single picture.  I brought my camera.  I even brought extra batteries.  I just could not take a single picture.  I am still not entirely sure why. A friend suggested that it could be because this trip was so grim.  I’ve thought about that.  Yes, my son and I were going to bury my husband and his father. But Grim? I don’t know that I looked at it that way.  My son and I were going to pay our final respects to Mick, in the best way we could.   Perhaps I knew instinctively that no photograph would ever be able to capture this journey.  I am not sure.  What I do know, is that this trip was as much for me, as it was for my husband.  I needed to know that I had done my best for him.  From things he has said and done, since Mick passed away, I believe my son felt the same way.  I did not even have a desire to write about this.  It seemed too personal.  Too hard to express in mere words.  Something that had to be experienced to be able to truly understand. But something happened that changed that.

I had been trying, all year, to find some one.  Anyone, who could come to the funeral to be there for my son and I.  We were traveling from Arizona and no one was going to be able to come to Washington D.C. with us.  I had called the Marine Corps, The Mickey Finn Group, even local Veteran centers to see if anyone could attend.  Everyone said they wished they could attend.  That they hoped it would go well.  That they were sorry for our loss. But no one was able to come. As it turns out, it was good no one could be there.  I realize now, it would have seemed like an intrusion. The people who were supposed to be there were able to come.  Pastor Walt and his friend, whose dad is buried at Arlington.  Mick’s daughter and her husband, who I am delighted to claim as family, and of course, Charles and I.

One of the Marines that had been trying so hard to find veterans who would be available to be there for my son and I, sent me an email a few hours after the funeral.  He had wanted to be there to support my son and I, since he too was a retired Marine who had been in Vietnam, but he was also unable to attend.  I received his email just after we got on the train to go home.

He said he hoped that it all went the way I wished it would.  He also mentioned that he had had a word with the Honor Guard that was going to be handling my husbands funeral.  Letting them know that my son and I were going to be there alone, and he wanted them to give us their very best.  He was writing me to make sure that they did okay. I remember thinking in disbelief, “Okay?” They were so far beyond ‘okay’. Below is what I wrote back to him. I wanted others to see this, out of gratitude.

Dear Mac,

They were the finest Honor Guard escort that I have ever seen. By far.

The burial detail. They were so precise, so measured, so careful. Each motion in its time and place, each performed with accuracy and grace. There was exquisite beauty in the exacting nature of their stately movements. The flag folded, with such attention to detail. Each fold and step given such care. I held it for hours after we left and it has not left my side yet. A case and a place of honor will be made for it at home.

The rifle detail. Standing, at attention, waiting, quietly waiting, to honor a fallen Marine. Fallen, but not forgotten.  It did not matter that he had not fallen in battle. Nor did it matter that he had retired from the Corps. What mattered is that he had served his country and served her well.
Semper Fidelis.

For the salute, they used the older rifles, that have that loud crack when they fire. The ones I hoped they would use. Again, precise, exact, together. In perfect timing. There was a comfort in that jolt, when they fired. Almost as though it was easing, or pulling out, the pain of our loss. Waiting as each volley rang out over the resting places of other military men and women. Then again, that crack, fired as one shot. You can hear it for miles.  That final volley. Twenty-one. The twenty-one gun salute of honor.

Taps. The bugler was excellent. Each note in perfect pitch. Full and rich in sound. Played slowly, solemn, as befitting the occasion but also with a feeling of pride. That last note held so long until it faded away. It reminded me of the words to that song. The sun fading from the sky, and yet, God is nigh.

The young marine in charge of the Honor Guard. The one who handed me the flag, was so touching in what he said, but moved me even more by the sincerity in his eyes when he thanked me for my husbands service. Then he surprised me with the shell casings. I had forgotten they were part of the ceremony.  I have given one to our son and one to Mick’s daughter, who I would gladly claim as my own. Something for them to hold onto, something to help them remember.

Pastor Walt.  He never ceases to amaze me.  He can capture exactly what needs to be said, but of course he is so in tune with the good Lord. I know that He was speaking through Pastor Walt today. The things that he said, the passage he read, they were exactly what I needed to hear. That while Mick did his best to be a good provider and protector, it is the Good Lord who does it right, every single time.

I will hold that service for my husband in a special place in my mind and my heart. I will remember and use it as a calming balm, when the pain of loss and regret tries, once again, to capture me.

I wish I could write or find some way to thank them all. To let them each know that the beauty touched my soul. That their care in doing it right, their dedication to duty, eased my pain. Perhaps I can send this to our cemetery representative. So that he can share it with each of them. Perhaps I can post it where others can read and appreciate the care and dedication we received.

I will not forget our cemetery representative.  Gracious, gentle, attentive. So focused, yet understanding and kind. Quiet, gentlemanly and knew just what to say. Walking us through each step of the way. Turning what seemed like a hard and unwanted fall, into a gentle journey of acceptance.

It was done right, Mac, it was done right. Dress right, dress.

Thank you.

A Marine’s wife,

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the land,
From the sea,
From the sky.
All is well,
Rest in peace,
God is nigh.

Rest in peace Mick. I’ll see you by and by.

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16 thoughts on “George “Mick” Leon Smith ~ Arlington National Cemetery

  1. Hugs Rachel. Holidays are not so jolly for everyone. I wish you Peace this season. Me, I just want it to all be over. Well written tribute my friend. I hope it helps your heart heal.

  2. Hello Rachel, I am sorry for your loss. I know those words sound trite and time-worn, but they are heart-felt. Your words were eloquent and helped me to feel your sense of anguish and forlorn hopelessness being alone at the funeral. But I am surprised that nobody could be found that was willing to help by attending the funeral. It is good that the drill team came to perform their sad duty on the passing of a comrade in arms, and good that it helped ease your pain. Being buried in Arlington is an honor, so I suspect Mick must have been a very special individual.
    Vandwellers are a very unique sort of group, and are very sympathetic. My best advice to you would be to get together with your fellow travelers and talk about Mick. Tell stories about him, and revel in having known him. Let others learn more about him.

    Best wishes to you and Charles.
    Tim

    • Thank you Tim,

      I have felt the genuine concern and caring from so many people these past months. It has been good to know that so many care, even though they had never met my husband, or in many cases, have never met me.

      I was very surprised too that I could not find anyone who was able to come. As it turns out people were already committed to the Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans Day. Adding anything in that same week was just too much. I talked to so many different people about the possibilities of coming. I had expected that to be fairly straightforward and simple. The Marines are very much a family. But as I said in my post it turned out for the best. For so many reasons.

      If you were to ask Mick, he would tell you that you just had to keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble to be buried at Arlington. But it is the best and we wanted the best for him.

      Thank you for taking the time to write. Thank you too, for your suggestion about remembering and telling others. ‘We Remember’ are the last two words of what my son wrote to put on Mick’s Headstone.

  3. Beautifully captured that day, and in a way that no doubt will bless those that give of themselves to honor those like your husband in these ways that touched your spirit and being so deeply. > “Thank You Lord for providing so well the solace and fullness in this honoring of her husband in this event that will forever hold a deep place in her and her family’s heart. Thank You Lord for providing in such detail and fullness as You knew she has needed. You are an awesome God and we love and praise You.” ❤ < Final words Semper Fi, rest well Mick Sir and thank you for your service. Rachel & Charles: Your hearts and spirits are so beautiful. God bless & keep you both healthy, happy, hopeful & well. ❤ <

    • Brenda, my dear sister friend,

      Thank you so much for your words. It’s been an extraordinary journey. I have, had, never lost anyone close to me before. Neither has Charles. It has been tough in so many ways, and yet all along the way, there has been good as well. Thanks for being there for me to talk to. Thank you most of all for your prayers and your love.

    • Thank you Hiram, that is very true. I have been seeing that in more than one aspect. The good Lord’s timing has always been startlingly accurate in taking care of what we need and when.

  4. HI Rachel, I found this entry by following a comment you made on rvsueandcrew, and your description of your husband’s service at Arlington made me choke up. My father in law was a Navy chaplain, working his way up to captain after enlisting at 17, and his funeral service at Arlington was one of the most impressive and emotional events I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sorry for your loss, thank you for capturing that moment so perfectly.
    Steve

    • Hello Steve, I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your comment. I want you to know, what you said here, and the fact that you took the time to write a comment, means a lot to me. Even now, I can see the honor guard, hear the bugler, and the crack of the rifles. I too felt my husband was honored in the best possible way for his service. I am so grateful that we did it right for him. It is good to know they did it right for your father in law too. My prayers are with you and your wife. Our military members deserve the best we can do, both in life and in death. It is not likely that I will ever see my husbands grave again, until I am buried next to him. But I am currently parked near a little cemetery out here in the forest. I drove by slowly, but even though I truly want to go see the remembrances, I have yet to be able to go through there. Even now, writing this, remembering Arlington, brings tears to my eyes.

  5. Hi Rachel, thanks for your reply. We visited my father in law’s site at Arlington about 2 months ago, and it moved me all over again. It’s sad to see the acres and acres of graves, but it’s also reassuring to see how seriously the staff take their responsibilties. It is truly a holy place.

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