Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A year ago today....and then some

What were you doing a year ago today ? It was a Monday so many were going to work, taking care of the kids, running errands in preparation for Thanksgiving Day, etc.

But if I asked you specifically what you were doing a year ago today, would you be able to tell me ? Probably not as the days meld into each other as time passes and we lose memory of specific actions on a date as far back as a year ago.

I can tell you as it is a day that held much importance to me and many others.

A year ago today on November 22, 2010, I traveled to Washington, DC for the funeral of Lt. Robert M. Kelly, USMC. He had died in Afghanistan and was part of the contingent of Marines who had kept me safe while I spent time out in Helmand Province. Unknown to me at the time, was that he was also part of the Marine Battalion that I had served under while I was in Fallujah also. We were shipmates and had likely crossed paths while in Fallujah. I went to his funeral after learning of this splendid Marine's death and that he was in Afghanistan in Sangin. I had the honor of speaking with many Marines who were working in that area and they are our nation's best.

Back to the original point, a year ago I was in Washington, DC. 48 years ago, I was a small child at home when the news broke that we had lost President Kennedy in Dallas. I can't tell you much about that day other than my Mom wouldn't stop crying, and to a young lad like myself, that was odd. The memory of that day was being a small boy with a very sad Mom. The loss we suffered that day was great. History would be very, very different if not for the loss of President Kennedy.

Time passes and the world moves on. A thought not lost on me today as we think about those lost to war and to a sniper's bullets 48 years ago today.

Enclosed is the post I made a year ago regarding Lt. Robert M. Kelly, USMC and the services for him at Arlington National Cemetery. He was a good man and a fine Marine, serving our country. We remember him and all others who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.

Semper Fi Lt. Kelly, we have the watch.

US Navy Jeep - 11/22/10


As I have witnessed, many of the readers of this blog hold the mission that our military undertakes as serious business. There can be no more serious business than putting men & women in the uniform of our country in harm's way. I deeply appreciate the support that each of us give to this mission.

Today, I was able to fulfill part of that mission by attending the funeral services for Lt. Robert M. Kelly, USMC today at the Fort Myer Chapel, located next to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. I was able to do so because I work for an Airline since arriving back in Boston from Afghanistan, and they are the kind of company that not only allows you to get on a jet anytime you want to (or need to) but also encourages you to do so. I was encouraged to do this by my colleagues and it was approved by my supervisor. I thought about it and decided in a very short time, that it was the absolutely right thing to do, I can do it, and I should do it.

Monday Morning, Nov. 22nd, I got on a flight out of Boston and arrived at Reagan National Airport in just over an hour. Arlington National Cemetery is very close (2 1/2 miles) and I got a cab there. Of Course, the cabby didn't know about the location for the ceremony and he was able to bring me deep into the middle of Arlington National Cemetery. I got turned around for a minute and wound up back near the entrance. It gave me the opportunity to pay my respects to President Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and their children who are buried there. The fact that this was November 22nd was not lost on me and seemed ironic that I would be travelling there to honor a Marine and still it happens to be November 22nd of all days. I also paid my respects at his brother's gravesites Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy. Each are buried close together near the front of the park.

Afterwards I had to find my way to the other side of the cemetery and was helped out by a park employee. I wound up on a brisk walk across Arlington National Cemetery, and emerged at the back gate which leads into Ft. Meyer. The Gate Guards pointed the way and the chapel was only 1000 yards across the base. I arrived slightly warm but no worse for the wear.

I was in line with hundreds of others, and spent part of my time speaking to young Marine Sgt. who was with friends who are also Marines, but were in civilian dress. The line was a who's-who of military with enough Two Star & Three Star Generals, Navy Captains, Marine Colonels and so many other officers that you could have filled an antique shop with all the brass. Many others there also including Policemen, Firemen and people from various groups to pay their respects. We were ushered in to the Chapel and directed to our seats by Marines as attendants. The Chapel is a bright and airy space, modern but at the same time, providing you with a sense of history.

The ceremony began with a presentation to Lt. Kelly's wife and family of the commendations awarded to him. A Purple Heart for wounds sustained in the battle he died in and a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation medal with Combat Distinguishing Device.authorized for valor (heroism) for a number of missions he accomplished including the one where he lost his life.

The services were very appropriate and the Navy Chaplain gave a great sermon about the meaning of how Christ died for us and he conquered death so that we would not need to be afraid. That Robert had simply gone on to eternal life with our Lord Jesus Christ and was waiting for friends & family when they got there. He ended his sermon with a traditional Irish Blessing (given in Gaelic) saying, " Farewell, God Bless you and see you when we meet again. "

The eulogies were given by his Brother, Capt. John Kelly, USMC and his father Lt. General John F. Kelly, USMC. His Brother went first and spoke about how his brother was a fine man, happy and as expected, the light of his families' life along with his bride, Heather. It was in the middle of his Brother's eulogy that I realized why I was drawn to be there on this day for this Marine.

Captain Kelly detailed about his Brother's career and spoke about the different assignments that Robert had held including Operation Iraqi Freedom, and specifically Operation Al Fajr in Fallujah in November 2004. It was at that moment that the Good Lord's desire to have me go became apparent to me. I was struck by the fact that not only had I been in Afghanistan with this splendid young Marine, but we had served together in Fallujah when I was there in 2004-2005. He & I were not personally acquainted, but we had served under the same Marine Command, and he was there providing security for me & my fellow Seabees. I found myself welling up and thanking the Lord for his will to push me to be there to honor this Marine as Robert was one of those who helped me while I was deployed.

His brother spoke about that the streets of our country and other countries around the world were guarded by United States Marines. He said that he was confident that the streets in Heaven were also guarded by United States Marines. He then stated, " And my Brother is one of those Marines, guarding the streets in heaven." Very touching and true, I am sure.

His father spoke next, saying first and foremost, that he was not there to eulogize his son. He stated "Anyone who is laid out for his final resting place dressed in the uniform of his country's finest, the United States Marines, and wrapped in his country's flag did not need eulogizing and his life's accomplishments are evident to all." Lt. General Kelly went on to describe that we as a country are at war with an enemy that will not go away and only wants our destruction and submission. He spoke eloquently regarding his opinion of the threat our nation faces and how that we as a country are protected by a small number of men & women who volunteer, give up their regular lives and go out to defend our nation against those who would do it harm. He said that many doubt our country but he said as long as our country produced men & women like those he spoke of, there was much hope that we would rid the world of the vile filth that wages terror against innocents.

His last statement was poignant as he described how as a Commander, he had to speak to many families and wounded Marines about the loss of their friends, sons, brothers, fathers and others. Each time, whether he wrote them a letter from overseas, or visited with them in person, he tried to imagine what they were going through and empathize with their loss.

He then stated, " I owe each and every one of them an apology as I could not imagine the depth of the pain they were going through as my wife and I have been going through it since we were notified of the loss of our son. It is unbearable. " His statement speaks volumes to a Father's love & pride for his son.

I was honored and privileged enough to be in attendance among many of our country's finest warriors, Robert's friends & family and felt that I had been called there by a force much greater than anything I can explain here with my paltry words. It was a moment I will not forget.

I had to leave at the end of the ceremonies as I had to catch the return flight to Boston and the services ended close to 2:10 with my return flight at just after 3:00. I was able to walk back across Arlington National Cemetery to the main entrance where they have cabs standing by. I imagined that somewhere in heaven, there was a Marine Lt. laughing as he watched this old Seabee hump his way back across the cemetery to the cab stand. I hope it provided all of them up there in heaven a good laugh. I regret that I was unable to attend the graveside ceremonies, but being there for his services was extraordinary. The time schedule only allowed me time to be there for the service in the chapel.

I caught a cab to the airport, checked in for the flight and was able to be back in my office in Boston by 17:00, no worse for the wear & tear but feeling that I had fulfilled and important mission Monday. Honoring one of our Country's finest, a warrior, son, brother, friend, husband and defender of our Flag.

There could be no finer mission than the one he fulfilled and I wanted to make sure I did not fail in my mission to honor him as we had shared many of the same places and experiences. He as a United States Marine and me, as a US Navy Seabee in Iraq and a contractor supporting the Marines at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. He & I share a bond that was not apparent until his passing but carried no less importance after his death than it did in life. We were brothers-in-arms and that was all that mattered.

Fair Winds & following seas, shipmate. Rest easy Marine, we have the watch

No comments: