Vietnam and the Marlboro Man
(Collinsville, Illinois circa 2013)
I officiated at a funeral today. I did not know this family but they had visited Christ Church a couple of times. The deceased was a Vietnam veteran who had his life stolen by cancer far too soon. The funeral home was packed like a church on Easter and as many people came to the committal service at the cemetery as I have ever seen. After the proceedings were completed, we traveled to a local cemetery for the committal. My role was a prayer, “dust to dust” and a blessing, then I turned things over to the Marines for full military honors. I love this service and despite the hundred or so times I have seen it, it still moves me in very profound ways. Upon completion of my blessing, I stepped aside and the soldiers took over. I couldn’t help but notice a man standing directly across from me in the crowd. He was about 6’2 and couldn’t have weighed more than 170 pounds. He wore a white shirt with no tie, a pair of brown dress pants and a black pair of shoes. He was about 60 and possessed an impressive shock of brown hair, a moustache and a weathered face. I couldn’t figure out if he looked more like singer Gordon Lightfoot or the Marlboro Man. As the soldiers took over, he stood perfectly erect, a soldier at attention, and took in every solemn detail. Taps was then played on a fake bugle with a sound system installed inside (I guess people don’t know how to play bugles anymore). What I could see that the crowd could not was that positioned directly behind them, seven Maries stood with their guns at attention. When the song was complete, a round was fired, the shells ejected and two more rounds followed. Though they all knew what was coming, the people in attendance jumped, blinked and winced (so did I). Everyone except the Marlboro Man. He just stood there. He neither jumped nor blinked nor changed his expression. He had heard such sounds before, long ago and there was no fear or surprise left in him. When the flag was presented and the local VFW handed the widow twenty-one shell casings in a plastic bag and a final salute was concluded, I felt that feeling I have experienced so many times before: Pride. I felt pride in the very best and most noble sense of the word. I was proud to be an American, proud to have the opportunity to speak into the lives of those attending and proud to be a parish minister. I was just proud.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois