It literally was like a scene from a movie…
Before they opened the doors for people the stream in at the funeral home, two military members stood in front of a flag draped coffin. One was the Marine Corps Inspector/Instructor who ran the closest reserve center. I was the other one, a chaplain.
The I & I inspected the young Marine’s uniform, carefully arranged his medals and ribbons. He picked up little threads and miniscule pieces of lint from the Marine’s folded gloved hands. It was in every way a holy moment. I for my part was preparing to conduct the service.
This young Marine was home on leave and stopped to help someone on the highway of his hometown where he had been a revered athlete and beloved hero. He was murdered. The press, the crush of the crowd waiting to be admitted into the service—none of this mattered in this moment. We were rendering military honors.
I have a chaplain colleague who served as the chaplain to a unit called Decedent Affairs. These are the amazing professionals who prepare the bodies of the servicemen and women who die while serving our country. With great care and dignity and honor they prepare the bodies (some not deemed viewable) home to their families. With equal care they ship the remains with an escort, often someone from the deceased’s unit.
I highly recommend a move starring Kevin Bacon titled Taking Chance. It depicts the whole process I just described in a powerful, accurate way. It’s hard to watch but I recommend that you take time and watch it—and then compare it with what we all just saw at Dover Air Force Base where they bring bodies home.
A cognitively impaired, obviously irritated (looking at his watch) Commander in Chief…representing you and I…fumbled and mumbled his way through a pathetic attempt to get it over and ‘console’ and the family members… right next to the caskets!
I thought back to my high school classmate Mike Courtney (I may be misspelling his name), who died in Viet Nam. I promised his mother that as for long as I live, I would never forget nor fail to mention his sacrifice every time I had the opportunity to do so. For over fifty years I have kept that promise.
Now, there are serious conversations in congress about capping military pay. They are in the process of giving orders that every member of the military and DOD take a vaccine, If they fail to do so…. there is actually serious discussions at the Pentagon about giving the members who refuse the vaccine a dishonorable discharge or an ‘other than honorable’ discharge.
I remembered another ceremony in the hangar at Dover Air Force Base. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton stood there and had the nerve to go to the grieving families of Ambassador Chris Stevens and those who tried to save him in Benghazi to ‘comfort’ them with a lie that had been crafted to cover their incompetence. Later Clinton at a Senate hearing looking into the debacle infamously cackled “What difference at this point does it make?” I remember the day that the President repeatedly mispronounced the TITLE Corpsman as ‘corpse man’
The Commander in Chief making a gaffe like that at a White House ceremony was unforgiveable. Not because a very busy man read the teleprompter and made a mistake…but because he didn’t know and those around him didn’t know what a Corpsman is and that it just might be that getting this wrong might be a big deal for a proud community of special sailors who serve with Marines.
There will be more flag draped coffins at Dover AFB. There will be more like Chance Phelps. We are taking Chances as a nation, and chances are… that those at the top in our government are dishonoring those in those flag draped coffins. I am ashamed today.
LCDR Jim Jenkins, CHC, USN (Ret.)