In August he told me he was just waiting for the iron they gave him to reach his blood, then he’d be back.
Back to honoring fellow veterans at their funerals, with rifle salutes and folded flags and taps played on a recording.
He was 92 years old but he wasn’t ready to have given it up; and after the better part of the year went to one health ailment after another, he said he was ‘just anemic’ and nearly ready to pick up where he had left off last January.
Instead they’ll fold the flag for him this week, fire the guns. He isn’t coming back.
I typed his obituary today and though the name wasn’t familiar, pieces of his story were. Dec. 18 he joined the Navy, served on the USS Santa Fe, and I stopped typing and searched his name, suddenly recognizing him in those details. He had told me that much in August, sitting at a round table in the (closed) VFW bar, flies buzzing in the hot, stale air. He wanted to join the Army but the sign-up line was too long, so he joined the Navy instead.
He remembered the date, how the line snaked out of the post office. He told me he reported for training the day after Christmas, spent his service ‘island hopping’ in the South Pacific.
When he came home? He started honoring those who didn’t, and his decades with the VFW honor guard began.
He said it was his duty, that was all there was to explain it.
They told me then that it was getting harder to have a full honor guard at funerals, as fewer and fewer had the time and strength or the will to participate. They were losing members, like him, to illness and old age.
But I don’t think they’ll have trouble finding enough volunteers for his funeral.