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.
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