Last Thanksgiving, I wrote about my old friend, Mr. Ed, an 88 year old World War II veteran who had just celebrated what we felt was his last Thanksgiving. His poor old body was worn out, but his mind was still good enough to give thanks for Christmas and to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
But, a couple of weeks ago, that tired body gave up the fight and Mr. Ed left us early one morning. He was at home - as usual - with Mrs. Becky, who had cared for him tirelessly and with no thoughts of anything but his well being for the four years of declining health that led to the last day.
His funeral was held on a cold, wet Wednesday morning in Gallatin, Tennessee. Visitation was the previous afternoon and hundreds of his friends and the residents of Gallatin who had known him and his family for 80+ years gathered to pay their respects. His three children were there and most of their children and grandchildren were there, too. Everyone who could come dropped by to pay their respects. It was as it should be. A life well lived honored by those who cared.
Knowing Mr Ed was gone was sad. Seeing his widow weep - she who had spent every night of their 68 years of marriage with him except when he was away at war or she was in the hospital delivering their third and last child - was sad. Hearing the stories of his long life from the lips of his grandchildren who said, "I wish I could hear him tell that story about Sam Houston just one more time" was sad. It was all sad, but underneath there was joy - a celebration of the life that this man lived...his contributions to the freedom of this country and to his community and to his family.
After the service, family and friends gathered under a tent that had been set up to provide shelter from the rain that had been falling steadily all morning. Funny thing...the rain stopped while the mourners left their cars and walked to the grave site. Over to the right stood four aged Veterans from the American Legion - all standing at attention and holding rifles. Three more Veterans were waiting patiently at the grave.
Once the minister concluded his remarks, the Veterans removed the flag of our country from the casket and all three helped to fold it according to tradition. When they were finished, one moved quietly ouside the tent where he lifted a polished trumpet to his lips. The plantive notes of Taps floated above the cold cemetery as the American flag was presented to Mrs. Becky. "Ma'am, this flag is presented to you by a grateful nation." Then, the Vets standing across the way lifted their rifles in response to a command from their leader and fired a 21 gun salute to Mr. Ed.
The tears were flowing down my cheeks and also the cheeks of others who witnessed the ceremony. We weren't sad for Mr Ed - he's in a happier place. Perhaps we were grateful for his contribution to our country and those were tears of gratitude. Perhaps we were sad for ourselves - knowing we had lost another man who helped preserve our freedoms and those were tears of regret.
For many reasons, the tears flowed.
Thank you, Mr. Ed for being an example of a man who loves his God, his country and his family. Were that all men were more like you.