Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Solemn ceremony for the fallen went on through rainfall, tears

The Tampa Bay Times article, "A soggy remembrance," Aug. 22, began with the words, "The sky turned black and the rain poured down. The public address system shorted out. But they read the names of the fallen anyway." Accurate reporting at its best. However, the essence of the solemn ceremony began to unfold after the expensive camera and video equipment were removed from the torrential rains to drier ground.

There, gathered around the leaking canvas tent that protected several families of the fallen, including the family of Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Sitton, stood individuals huddled under perhaps a hundred umbrellas.

The wind whipped the heavy rains that blew in sideways; lightning flashed and crackled overhead.

One by one, rain-soaked Boy Scouts approached the bullhorn that awaited them under the battered tent. Each one read the name of a soldier who had been killed in the line of duty in a distant, wretched, hostile land. The Patriot Guard Riders and then Rolling Thunder read more names, followed by a one-armed, Purple Heart-recipient Vietnam vet reading the names of the fallen of the Gold Star families in attendance.

The umbrellas did not decrease in number. As the names were read, there seemed to be a rebirth, a determination to press on until the end.

Four American soldiers dressed in Army combat uniforms approached the battery-operated megaphone. A dark-haired, handsome soldier spoke directly to the mothers and fathers. He said, "We, your sons, do not want you to worry while we are deployed. We don't call you and tell you much about what we are engaged in, because we don't want you to worry."

Then a tall, lanky, newly married soldier reached into his pocket to retrieve his short speech. He tried to unfold the paper it was written on, causing it to shred and fall apart. He stood there, in front of those umbrellas, and wept for a fallen comrade.

No further words were needed. It was impossible to distinguish between the tears of those gathered to listen, and the rain drops, as both flowed freely.

The "Last Roll Call" was conducted, followed by a piper playing Amazing Grace, concluding with Taps.

Heroes prevailed at this solemn ceremony, in addition to the four American soldiers.

A Scoutmaster suggested that the names of the fallen be read and offered the use of a megaphone, which launched a renewed effort to continue the ceremony.

The piper played Amazing Grace knowing that the rain would destroy his bagpipe; he then produced his bugle and played Taps.

A beloved local congressman, one who is well known for his appreciation and devotion to veterans, stood there throughout the entire ceremony, his aide also by his side.

The Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder stood at attention as did the Boy Scouts. The color guard presented colors during the hardest of rainfall.

Heroes all.

Heroes were found under every single umbrella. Those souls reflected what makes this nation great. They could have left and gone home to dry surroundings, but they chose to endure.

What was said at this rain-soaked ceremony was near and dear to their spirits and hearts. Many had had a personal encounter with death. Many of these suffered the loss of a son or daughter who died in a combat theater or as a result of their military service. These were the families of the fallen, 30 families strong. They are the heroes; the memory and legacy of their sons and daughters live on through these families.

The ones who had come to see and listen to the dignitaries and VIPs, who had long left, also left soon after. Those who remained chose to do so, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

A loving and wise God took what was to be a long, eventful, exciting ceremony and carefully sculpted it into a deeply solemn and personal event.

Nature did not prevail that day, the heroes did.

Toni Gross of Oldsmar is the mother of U.S. Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 16, 2011.

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