By Don Conway
This is going to be tough, sergeant CB thought to herself. Two tours in Afghanistan had been hard, but this might be harder. I guess I knew that when I volunteered for this duty. Has it only been nine weeks since I started training? So much to learn . . . caring for the horses, polishing the bridles and saddles, how to sit at attention in the saddle, the protocols for each type of funeral.
Well, I’m here now, officially a member of the Caisson Platoon of the Old Guard, 3rd United States Infantry. Arlington is so beautiful on a fall day like this. The sun is warm, and the trees have turned colors. And quiet. The horse’s hoof beats are almost the only sound.
I’m really grateful to the Sergeant Major for stopping by the stables this morning. He knows this is my first funeral. “Not to worry CB,” he said. “Just remember you’re a Sergeant in the Old Guard. You know how important this ceremony is to the family. It means they can finally bring closure to this difficult time. Your job is to maintain the dignity of the funeral. That’s how we show the family that we are sharing their loss.” That was really helpful.
I have a good mount this morning. They call her Mom. She’s a gentle, steady horse. I wonder how many funerals like this she has been part of? She makes me think of my Mom, gentle and steady, always there. Even when I decided to re-up in the Army.
I didn’t mean to, but I got a glimpse of the family while the casket was being placed on the caisson. Two older couples. Parents I suppose. A young woman —wife? And a small boy about six or seven. I wonder if he really understands what is happening here. Perhaps one day he will. They are following along quietly behind the caisson now.
Almost at the grave site. There’s the Casket Team waiting for us. Be sure to hold the horses steady while they lift the casket off the caisson. There, that’s done. Wait a bit while the team and the family walk to the grave site.
They’re gone now. Time for us to leave.
Yes, she thought, this is a privilege and I can do it. But why must there be so many funerals. . . .
Don Conway is an award-winning Architect and Writer (two golds and a silver medal from a national writing competition) also a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. Says he is working hard on book number four.