Monday, August 31, 2009

8/29/09 A Hard-to-Get-My-Head-Around Kind of A Day (by Charlie Gili)

Ever been confused? Today was one of those days for me. I got up early and headed out of Brooklyn and out east to Long Island.

I was in route to meet up with a very special group of folks, to take care of something that I needed to be part of. A young Marine had been Killed in Action last week in Afghanistan and he was brought home to his family by his fellow Marines. I couldn't make the services, but I knew through the great folks from The Patriot Guard Riders, that Lance Corporal Damas would be taken to Kennedy Airport for his final flight to North Carolina for burial.

I finally caught up with the Damas escort at the funeral home. I said hello to some of the other volunteers and got some direction and absorbed the protocol for the last leg of the escort. The casket had to be made ready for air travel and this was the purpose of the stop at the funeral parlor.

Six Marines in their best dress uniforms loaded the casket carrying Lance Corporal Damas into the hearse. The police escort pulled out of the driveway to block traffic and those of us making up the Patriot Guard escort got underway and headed to Kennedy. Most of the traffic along the Belt Parkway yielded when they noticed that this was a service member escort and those that didn’t were encouraged to do so by those of us providing the escort.

We were taken through the back roads of the airport and right up to a fence that marked the tarmac. The civilians in the escort were stopped short of the tarmac, so we lined up just outside the fence, while the uniformed personnel proceeded ahead. Moments later, Port Authority Police Officers invited us through a building and onto the tarmac so that we could be part of the proceedings. This was a very nice gesture on their part and we formed ranks around the back of the hearse on one side and a group of Police Officers did the same on the other.

The six Marines went through their movements to remove the casket to a mechanized gurney. As the Marines slowly brought their right hands into the military salute position, the Police Captain ordered his Officers to do the same and we all followed suit.

We held the same salute until the casket was rolled to the waiting jet and loaded aboard. It was a very solemn few moments. I have attended several such services, but this was the first time I was involved in an airport departure. Once the formal recognition was concluded, we shook hands and were on our way back to resume our regular lives.

I had to go straight to work since there was a huge event being held in a Brooklyn Park and I was responsible for many of the logistics. Spike Lee was sponsoring a "Tribute to Michael Jackson" and when I arrived at the event site, the music and activities were already underway. The crowd estimate was 12 to 15,000. Everyone was having a great time and it was a nice event, with everyone well-behaved.

I don't know if I was just a bit tired or if I am just getting old, but I couldn't get the scene on the JFK tarmac out of my head. A local Marine had been killed, brought home and sent to his final resting place. Lance Corporal Damas is a true hero. Yet, at his final farewell on the grounds of a windswept local airport, there were about 40 of us who witnessed his passing and in the same day, just 35 minutes from the tarmac at Kennedy, there were more than 10,000 nice people celebrating the music of a pop icon.

I wondered how many people in the crowd were aware of why they could celebrate in such a wonderful way? If they realized how the death of Lance Corporal Damas and the hundreds of thousands of patriots who went before him was directly related to the freedoms they were enjoying on this day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I understand the dynamics of how these things work in our society, but even though I do, I just couldn't get my head around the backwardsness of my day. I don't think I ever will. Semper Fi Lance Corporal.

Charlie Gili


Anonymous said...

Im glad you guys were there to pay your respects for a fallen hero. I had just come in tonight from a parade that was thrown together in one day. The parade was held in our small town of Huntingdon PA. to welcome home 20 soldiers from Iraq. they managed to get every single fire truck, ambulance, and state police car within a hundred miles to escort that bus through town,with the sirens and lights blairing. The entire town lined up, most in tears of joy, I was proud to see it. This is why I moved to a small town, the people Know what matters here. The timing of your post and content hit home thanks,WILL

Pete said...

You know Charlie,I've felt the same way for a lot more than one day. Society's values are all screwed up - we get so caught up in hero worship, and what movie star is having Botox injections and what musician is sleeping with whose wife, and how sad it is that this sports figure is ONLY getting paid $36 million...and we ignore the REAL heroes - those who give up their lives in the name of freedom. RIP Lance Corporal.


Spinner said...

Thanks to you Charlie, we were all there to honor Lance Corporal Damas. Jim Spinner

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Charlie. God Bless America and all you fought to defend her....mark S

Anonymous said...


Written by his sister Mary Rogers In loving memory of my brother, Lance Corporal Jerry E .Metcalf who was killed in a rice paddy in Vietnam on June 15,1967. Time has not erased the emptiness.

As the soldier looked down from the heavens above
down on the earth and the land that he loved

He saw its beautiful mountains, its rivers and streams
the land of opportunity, of freedom and dreams

Then he looked down at the red, white, and blue
The flag he defended, being burned by a few

His heart began aching; his eyes filled with tears
Dear God, Tell me the reason for the flames and the sneers?

What has happened to my people, where is their pride?
Have they forgotten we carried that flag as we died?

That flag was our symbol of a land free and true
For hundreds of years it has carried us through

If there ever was anything for which this country stood
It was the flag that told others our land was free and good

Have you forgotten my mother who cries over my grave?
Or the imprisoned others, so strong and brave?

We fought for our country, many lives for that flag
Yet you dare let them burn it and call it a rag?

We gave the gift of freedom, unselfishly for you and your own
Are your eyes so blind that this dishonor you condone?

That flag cannot burn, you just can't let it be
Please stop this nonsense and listen to me

Let it fly proudly, please protect it from harm
Let it be unfurled over cities and farms

If you allow to happen, if you let it burn
You are killing America and the honor thousands fought proudly to earn

I wish I could be there, I'd try to find a way
But my days with you were taken, so I can only pray

That God will give you guidance, and the strength to decide,
The flag we died for shall not burn, but fly with reverence and pride

Lance Corporal Damas