The Vietnam Veteran’s Parade
(Fairview Heights, Illinois circa 2013)
Officiating the funerals of veterans is not uncommon for me. Over the past fifteen years, I have buried over one hundred World War II veterans but that river has now slowed to a trickle. What sociologists call “The Greatest Generation” is almost gone. These were quiet and proud men who seldom spoke of their time in Europe or the Pacific but were good enough to return home and make America great. They were quiet heroes who received a hero’s welcome and lived hero’s lives. When their time to die came around, they wanted the service ceremonial, traditional and without fanfare. They were born, they fought, they married, they built, they golfed and they died. They won. It was a simple as that.
Now the Vietnam veterans are starting to die and a new dynamic is emerging. Earlier this year, my friend Roger suddenly died and I was honored to officiate the proceedings. Roger wore a long pony tail, rode a Harley, worked hard, loved his family, advocated for veterans, had a heart of gold and was one of those guys no one ever thought would be going to church every week. His death hit us all hard. I expected a World War II kind of funeral but when I arrived at church, a fire truck was in the parking lot with a huge American flag hanging from the ladder, dozens and dozens of Harleys were lined up perfectly near the main entrance and a Patriot Guard stood in a line outside the church dressed in do-rags, blue jeans and bikers’ colors. Before the service began, the Patriot Guard slowly proceeded in front of the casket with the leader greeting Roger’s widow, Nancy personally. Then the fire department paid their respects. Upon completion of the service proper a cacophony of trucks, fire engines, police cars, motorcycles and pickup trucks formed a line two miles long to make our way to the cemetery. As I looked back upon the seemingly endless procession, I couldn’t help think that it looked just like a parade. Perhaps the parade the Vietnam veterans never got in life will come to them in death.