The phone rang at 9:15 pm on Sunday night. It was the David, the director of a funeral home in Loveland. He was calling because the family of a former United States Marine had requested a Marine Corps burial detail and he had heard there was a Marine Corps League Detachment in Loveland. The funeral service was on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
My first reaction was to say, "Yes, we can do that. It would be an honor. It is part of our mission." But, before I could get the words out, reality set in and instead I had to tell David that we were a new detachment, just getting started, and could not perform the service. We were not prepared. I did, however give him Chuck's phone number. Chuck is a member of the Northern Colorado Detachment #785. I knew they had an Honor Guard that performs burial details. As I hung up the phone I had the feeling that I had let down a fellow Marine.
I grabbed the local paper and turned toward the obituary section and found the name of the person that I had been called about. There was a part of the obituary that stated: He served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a Marine. Although we never met and I knew nothing about him, the fact that he was a United States Marine lets everyone know a little something about him. As Tom Barlett in Leatherneck Magazine said "You earned the title "Marine" upon graduation from boot recruit training. It wasn't willed to you; it isn't a gift. It is not a government subsidy. Few can claim the title; no one can take it away. It is yours forever."
The next day I got a call from Mac from the NC Detachment. He let me know that they were indeed going to do the burial detail and would like as many members of the Loveland Detachment to attend as possible. I sent out an email and Dan said he would call those that did not have email. The word was out.
I rearranged a vacation day so that I could attend. The way I figured it was, that if we are going to be expected to perform a service such as a burial detail we should at least get involved with one. It beats reinventing the wheel.
As the service began at the church at 10:30, there was a growing glow of red jackets forming at the far corner of the cemetery across the street. The old guard of the Northern Colorado Detachment #785 were all there. They welcomed those of us from Loveland that showed up and we all were given assignments.
They have all of the flags, seven rifles for the 21gun salute, buglers, and extra white gloves. There was a table set up with a cover and sword on top of a Marine Corps banner. We ran through the ceremony so that everyone understood his part. The riflemen zeroed in on the top of a nearby tree so they all would be in alignment.
Those involved with the folding of the flag and presenting it to the widow got all in sync. The buglers studied their routine and made preparations for the musical interlude.
After we had the drill down we broke out and waited for the church service to be over. It lasted about twenty minutes longer than scheduled, but it was after all a Marine's final farewell. We moved out of the sun and waited until we saw the crowd making its way across the street and down the dirt road through the cemetery. It was time to fall in and look sharp.
My role for the ceremony was flag bearer for the American flag. I had the easiest role of anyone. All I had to do was stand at attention at the far right of the riflemen and remember not to dip the flag when the present arms order was given. It was a job that I could handle.
From what I could see there were over 100 Thompson Valley Football black and gold jerseys in a semi circle around the gravesite along with a chorus of people dressed in other colors. I imagine what they saw looking our way was 18 Marines in our red jackets, white shirts, black ties, trousers and shoes and topped with our garrison covers. Some of us had rifles and others held unfurled flags flapping in the shallow breeze.
As the casket was transferred from the hearse to the stand at the grave the order was shouted out "Detail, Attention!" Thoughts of the grinder at MCRD flashed through my head.
The buglers were set apart, one near the front and another behind us. They played a rendition of Taps as harmonious and beautiful as the ceremony was solemn. From our vantage point the stereo sound was superb.
The orders were given for the riflemen, Ready! Aim! Fire! After each volley, they snapped back to the ready position. As I stood with my eyes straightforward, I caught the flash of spent brass spinning through the air from my left and falling to the ground.
Next came the folding of the flag and the explanation of the colors and all that the flag represents to America and Marines. After the flag was folded three empty rifle cartridges were placed inside and the explanation of what each stood for was given. As Mac presented the folded flag to the widow I swelled with pride as he told her that it was presented on behalf of the Loveland and Ft. Collins Marine Corps Detachments.
The last part of the ceremony was the roll call. Chuck shouted the names of those Marines in attendance and we answered one by one "Here Sir!" After 18 names were called he called out Marine Slatter! Marine Slatter! Marine Slatter! There was no response. The silence was deafening! He then saluted and directed the Sergeant Major to remove Marine Slatter from the Roll call. I could feel the goose bumps racing up and down my arms and spine and could see the awe and acknowledgment of the sense of honor that we give our fellow Marines.
Tom, Gil and Sam, the three buglers, joined together near the front to sound out the Marine Corps Hymn. There are times when the sense of pride of being a United States Marine shines a little brighter. This was one of those moments..
The last thing in the ceremony was the releasing of two-dozen white doves. They were held captive in two wicker cages about twenty-five feet directly in front of me. When one cage was opened a dozen doves flew directly at me and swerved around me. They just missed me and the flag I was holding by a few feet. I was thinking of what a great photo that would have made. A dozen white birds, wings fluttering and swarming around a US flag flapping in the wind.
It is my belief that performing the honor guard, especially for the funeral of a Marine that can no longer answer the roll call is one of the most important and rewarding missions that we will accomplish as a detachment. I urge everyone to get a little gung ho and acquire the uniform necessary to participate in this vital and rewarding task.
Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem. [Ronald Reagan, U.S. President; 1985]