A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 24

Ashes To Ashes
Dust to Dust

It was a brisk January day right after the first of the year. The sun light was so bright that the tombstones seemed to gleam their whiteness, reflecting sunlight. Snow was interspersed amongst the markers to complete the purifying affects of the day.

The Old Guard stood silent and at attention next to a stark empty casein with creased pant legs snapping like small black sails in the new years wind. I carried Kathy on my arm, being flanked but each of my children who hated funerals and the thought of death but felt it their sworn duty to see their father's friend to his rest this day.

Jay Jordan & John Morales said they would be there, but I had no hope anyone else would attend. Mrs. Pruett had said she would come, but New Jersey was a world away, and I suspected she would relent once her newly rekindled grief had waned. She was no longer a young woman and we wanted to walk behind the casein to honor our dead.

John Morales stood tall and elegant in a sheer black suit and no topcoat for the freezing day. Jay Jordan sat in a chair just inside the chapel doors. He stood and we all shook hands as I introduced my brood and their mother. It was all quite cordial and I glanced back through the open doors at the hillside full of stone.

"Anyone else?" I asked, knowing Keith had no one but me.

"Yeah, Lieutenant Brown, his commander in the field," Jay said.

John Morales leaned to open the door for us and I gazed inside as half a hundred heads turned. Lt. Brown had contacted Keith's squad, each survivor and their families had come from all corners of the country to honor a man that died so they might live. Mrs. Pruett and eight of her children had come along with her.

As I saw the casket and Keith's dressed army photo perched on top, I lost contact with my fellow mourners. I was drawn to it and him, leaving all of them behind as I walked the last mile to be alone with my friend. The photograph was remarkable. Just as I remembered him the last time we said goodbye. I placed my hand on a corner of the box, wanting more.

The ceremony was brief. The casket locked behind the horses that strolled along the winding roads as we walked behind. Heels clicked and rifles snapped as the honor guard led the way. Kathy held my hand to give me the strength to finish the journey Keith and I had started so many years ago. He had left me a long time ago and now he had come home.

I'd never attended a military funeral and wasn't prepared for the graveside rights. Each note the bugle sang shuddered through my heart. My knees grew weak and the rifle volley made me jump and then the flag was neatly folded and handed to Lt. Brown. Dressed in his uniform and looking older than his years, he brought the flag to me, saluting as he handed me the symbol of my countries strength.

I took the flag and stood to shake his hand. The ceremony was quickly concluded and we stood awkwardly on the side of the hill as a jet heading for Reagan National Airport stormed through. The entire affair took only an hour. There was a better feeling inside myself.

"Junior, I'm going over to The Wall. Have you been?"

"No, sir," he said.

"My friend's name is on it. I'd like you to come with me to see it," I said.

"Cool," he said with an enthusiasm in his voice I was unable to read.

Kathy dropped us near the Lincoln Memorial and went for coffee with Amy. We walked on the loose gravel until we found ourselves among the dead. The list loomed from near the ground to well over my head and you could call the dead by name. We walked the length of the memorial until we came to the place where I was told his name would be.

"There it is," I said, pointing to a spot where small pieces of paper were still embedded in the letters of Michael Clark.

Tom Jr. surprised me when he stepped forward and ran his fingers over the letters, one at a time.

"Pops, why didn't I know about him?" He asked.

"I don't know. I never talk about him. He was my best friend when I was a boy," I said.

"My age?" He asked, taking his fingers away from the letters to look at me and then putting them back.

"Yes, in fact I was just your age," I said.

"You should have told me about him, dad. I should know things about you like that," he said, removing a piece of pristine white paper and a pencil from his pocket.

"What are you doing?" I asked, as he placed the paper against the wall.

"Lighten up, Pops. I saw it on a special about The Wall. I want to keep it. I want to remember him," he said, tracing the name by rubbing a pencil over the back of the paper. There, just like it was printed on the wall,

Michael Clark

"You're quite a son, Tom. I'm proud of you," I said.

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