On February 28, 2012, I posted a blog titled “A True American Hero Comes Home.” The hero was Captain Nicholas “Nick” Schade Whitlock, the son of a dear friend of mine whose military plane crashed in Africa. He, along with three other servicemen, died in that crash. He came home to a hero’s welcome—as well he should have—and it was amazing to see. If you haven’t read that blog, here’s the link: https://musingsofedwina.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/a-true-american-hero-comes-home/ .
The family had the option to have Nick buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but the thought of him being so far away and not being able to visit his grave whenever they needed or wanted to was difficult. Still, Jimmy, Nick’s dad, said that Nick deserved to be buried at Arlington. It was a statement he repeated quite often.
A few weeks ago, the Whitlock’s received a telephone call. The military voice on the other end explained that more remains had been discovered at the crash site. Unfortunately, the remains were so badly damaged they could not be identified, even through DNA testing. Thus, the military planned to honor all four servicemen who lost their lives that fateful day. The family was invited to attend the service and, of course, they were all present. Parents, wife, grandmother, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, —all lined up behind the casket holding the remains of this particular Unknown Soldier. The flag-draped casket, on top a caisson, was pulled by four horses—one without a rider.
The families were seated and the silence was almost tranquil. Silence was not for long. In the background a low buzz rapidly became a roaring sound as The Missing Man Flyover raced across that plot of ground in Arlington. Military guidelines authorize flyovers for “dignitaries of the armed forces and the federal government.” This was the military’s way of paying honor to four men who truly deserved it.
Quiet reigned again. Until, in a clipped voice, the Honor Guard Leader barked, “READY!” and seven members of the Honor Guard raised their rifles. “AIM!” Seven rifles were readied into position. “FIRE!” Seven rifles fired three short rounds. It was the Twenty-One Gun Salute, the nation’s official national salute of the highest honor to military men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving on behalf of America. Before the ceremony was over, the Honor Guard gave three more Twenty-One Gun Salutes—a total of four—one for each man.
This service was heart-wrenching, emotionally draining. The Whitlock family, along with the families of the other three servicemen, had relived the days of February, 2012.
Yet, there was a sense of closure. A feeling of peace. And Nick’s dad, Jimmy, got his wish.