I was surprised at the enthusiasm among the French patrons. I had been somewhat prejudiced in my opinion while studying French in high school, that the French were not terribly impressed with Americans, and perhaps even less impressed with American military service members. Nevertheless, it was evident that my education had been somewhat askew. As I watched the young men pass by the cafe, I was surprised at my own excitement. I felt such pride that these young men were representative of my nation. I felt such safety knowing that they were there in the same city in which I resided. I also experienced tremendous honor deep within my soul as I witnessed the respect the French had for their military service.
Throughout my life, I have never forgotten that moment. It had a monumental impact on my life’s views. It was one of those moments where one realizes she has received an epiphany of knowledge that has changed her understanding, and that she will never be able to forget, change, or deny that knowledge as long as she lives. At that moment, I realized that America was different than other nations because the hearts of her people are different. Our motivations, our focus, and our efforts are directional, and we are driven to improve life for ourselves and others. Moreover, the French people surrounding me realized it too. The chance passing of these fine American troops inspired tears and adulations among the patrons of the café. More importantly to me, however, was that it filled my soul with an appreciation for the bravery and boldness of American service members who travel the world, at their own peril, to bring safety, relief, and prosperity to others. I realized it, and I witnessed the French people around me exude it.
I did not know at that moment that the American military would be a significant influence in my life, but nearly four years later, I met and married an American military service member. My husband was stationed in San Diego CA, and our three daughters were born there. Being a military wife was by far the most difficult thing I have ever experienced. Worrying about one's husband as he was called upon to travel to distant shores, liberate oppressed nations, and offer humanitarian relief, are experiences which separate women from girls. To provide liberty, the American serviceman heads into battle, risking his life and his family’s future. His quest to annihilate oppression is so overwhelmingly brave and yet gracious that it reaches beyond human logic. These are the men of the American military. Their spiritual strengths motivate them to risk everything precious.
When my husband returned from the 1st Gulf war, we traveled together to France to celebrate our anniversary and his safe return to our family. We visited and stayed with a French family in Freneuse France. Our experience with this family was humbling as they took us to the shores of Normandy and expressed their gratitude for the American servicemen. We visited the American cemeteries where row upon row of US Troops lay resting after their ultimate sacrifices on behalf of the European oppressed. We sat at our friend’s home as visitor after visitor came by to meet and have tea with us. One after another, they openly expressed their gratitude for their nation’s liberation and shared their familial history and impact of freedom as it was restored to them by American troops. As it had so many years before in the beautiful city of Nice France, my respect for American bravery and sacrifice swelled within my heart. This time, however, the intensity of my experience as a military wife magnified the profoundness of death suffered by American troops and their survivors.
As a funeral director, I often direct military service member’s last services. The military honors provided by the Department of Defense are awe inspiring. This past weekend, I directed a service for a Vietnam Veteran. As I sat in my arrangement room with his wife, finalizing the details of his service, we discussed his military honors. The services needed a brief delay allowing his grandson travel time home from his duty station. He had followed his grandfather’s heroic example and was in the service of his nation some distance away. As we continued our interview, I realized that this Vietnam Veteran had passed his desire to serve through the generations of his family. He had two sons, as well as, his grandson who were service members. His widow preferred that rather than strangers render his military honors, his sons and grandson lovingly provide them.
The pall bearers carried the wartime hero to his final resting place, and his grave was dedicated as hallowed ground. The boatswain's pipe blew a final farewell, and the last bell rang signaling to all that a hero had departed. Just before taps rang true, three men stepped out of ranks and marched to the casket. They lifted the flag and with great care, folded it into a beautiful field of blue with white stars. The sons relinquished the folded flag to the grandson, and as he called his about face, he marched over to his grandmother. Handsomely dressed in his crisp uniform, he thanked his grandmother for her husband’s brave service, tearfully handed her the folded flag on behalf of a grateful nation, and slowly and methodically saluted the final moment his grandfather’s body remained above ground.
That was it. That was goodbye. It was beautiful, spiritual, emotional, ceremonial, and wholly inadequate for the service and sacrifices given by an American hero. Amazing American heroes lie in graves all across the world with untold stories of selflessness and sacrifice, and their families mourn their loss. Giving a folded flag to the survivor of an American hero seems too trivial unless you understand the symbolism of its colors as adopted from the Great Seal.
"…White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice." (Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress,1777)
"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun." (1977, House of Representatives)
A hero is a hero by nature, not by choice. They perform heroics because it is who they are, not because they desire accolades. A folded American flag is probably the greatest form of respect one could give an American hero. It embodies the very spirit of American loyalty and sacrifice, America’s principles of liberty and justice, and the selfless nature of American military heroes.
American military families suffer the pain and anguish that their service members experience as they serve for liberty and justice across the globe. They come together on the day of burial with heavy hearts and lay to rest their American heroes as they receive their folded flags and emotionally listen to the bugler’s final notes of honor and respect. As Pearl Harbor Day approaches, I recall the recognition and regard offered as the American servicemen walked past the sidewalk café in Nice France. I remember the gratitude expressed by our friends and their neighbors who experienced the great liberation of Normandy. Pearl Harbor Day is an American Day of Remembrance. People who are grateful for and humbled by, the pure sacrifices of our great American military heroes also remember it.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.