On duty


He’s anemic.

But they gave him this big bag of iron and as soon as he gets it inside him, he’ll be back.

He leans forward to tell me this, thin hand cupped up to his ear to listen for an answer. There’s a cane leaning up against the table behind him.

He’s 92 years old.

I’m writing a story about a local honor guard for a special section of the paper coming out in September, so I meet with two of the members on a sunny afternoon at the old golf course. We’re seated at round tables in the empty bar – it’s closed still – and though one tells me it’s ‘nice and cool down here,’ I’m sweating in the stale air.

A fly (or several) buzz around our heads. I probably leave ink spots on my face from waving them away, pen in hand. I leave ink spots on everything, little marks and dots in blue or black on shirts and skirts and slacks.

I ask them why they’ve spent how many hours providing military honors at funerals? And he answers in three words.

It’s our duty.

I wonder how many people understand that word.

He signed up days after Pearl Harbor, joined the Navy because the Army’s enlisting line was too long. When he got home he started helping with the effort to give military honors at funerals for young GIs. Twenty years later he was among those who formed the honor guard; he’s been at it for the past half century.

Now he’s 92. He took a break this year, for health ailments coming one after another.

Now he’s just anemic.

And once that iron hits his blood stream? He’ll suit up again, stand at another man’s funeral, fold his flag and fire his salute and pay his respects the best way he knows how.

Because it’s his duty.

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Filed under Notebook sketches, People

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