REMEMBERING AND HONORING OUR AMERICAN HERO
On Sunday, February 19, 2012 we marked the five year anniversary of our American Hero being KIA while serving as an army medic in Afghanistan Asia by having a WREATH LAYING CEREMONY. I have written a bit about this tragic event (previously) so I won’t take the time here to go over all of that.
I invited Buddy’s former CO to the service and asked if he would be the Key Note Speaker.They are in OK and we are in SC so it was quite a commitment for them to make that seventeen hour drive. He accepted and brought three other OKNG soldiers with him. All four soldiers were in Afghanistan with Buddy. I later found out that one of the soldiers was actually in the same convoy that was ambushed by the Taliban when Buddy was KIA!
Our grandson was only three months, four days old when his Daddy Buddy was KIA. Now that he is five years old I wanted to do something to help him put some pieces of the puzzle together. He may not yet recognize that there is a puzzle but I felt like it was important to do something too not only mark this five year milestone but too also give our little guy some memory of his daddy.
So upon he advice of Randy “Steam” Stevens (the SCPGR Captain) I decided on the Wreath Laying Ceremony. And since this is a military service and I am a mere civilian it wasn’t the easiest thing to pull off. I couldn’t have done it without the help of the South Carolina Patriot Guard Riders. Their State Captain was instrumental in helping me maneuver through the various agencies. And if not for Senator Glenn McConnell the Color Guard would have been a high-school ROTC team. But I felt like Buddy was a decorated soldier and he deserved real soldiers at this ceremony. I think he’s earned much more than that. And although one First Sargent from the South Carolina National Guard initially told me that they usually reserve Color Guards for dignitaries or high ranking officials he changed his tune when the Senator’s office inquired.
The Ceremony was scheduled for 1400 hours that Sunday. When I awoke that morning it was pouring down. We had gotten over two inches of rain that night and depending on which forecast you looked at the forecast for the remainder of the day was 90%-100% chance of rain for the remainder of the day. Great!
Fortunately the funeral home that helped with Buddy’s burial was nice enough to erect a tent and put out some chairs for us. And they didn’t charge anything either!
Around 1230 hours the rain let up. Since the cemetery is less than two miles from our home I decided to ride down there to check on things. The tent wasn’t up yet. I guess since we had thunderstorms the night before they laid the rug and chairs on the ground then placed the half-round tent top over that.
At 1320 hours I rode back down there to make sure the Color Guard and bugler were there and to see if the tent was up. There had been a number of challenges so I just wanted to let my family know if there was something not quite right. The Color Guard was there and the tent was up but no bugler yet. I decided, what the heck, I wasn’t going to worry about anything else. It would either come off or not.
I got a call from the SC Patriot Guard Riders and we were to meet them at a store parking lot so they could escort us down the highway and into the cemetery. There were about twenty-five to thirty bikes with flags so it was an impressive entrance. By now our prayers for no rain paid off. The rain stopped!
When we arrived at the cemetery everyone was there. We waited a few minutes to exit our vehicles so that the SCPGR could form their flag line. The Color Guard was in place in their dress uniforms. The OKNG soldiers were there (standing at attention) in their dress uniforms. Our pastor was there. The vocalist (the praise and worship leader at our local church) was there. I didn’t see the bugler but he should have been tucked away somewhere in the distance. Everything was set.
Capt Rowland opened with a few short remarks about the ceremony followed the singing of the National Anthem. Brad (the vocalist) later told me that he was scared to death about messing up the National Anthem with all those soldiers there.
Next Captain Rowland spoke about Sgt Buddy James “Doc” Hughie. (And how interesting is it that as Captain Rowland began speaking that the sun actually broke through the clouds?) As he spoke, I learned some more about Buddy. I knew he had completed Advanced Infantry Training to perform the duties of an army medic. However, I did not know that he had also successfully completed Advanced Infantry Training for both Engineering and Military Police! Captain Rowland said that it was unusual to find a soldier who had completed two AITs and it was virtually unheard of to have a soldier in your unit that had completed three! Sgt Hughie was a very accomplished soldier. I also learned that day that when they were deployed to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief his unit found a survivor on day five. Buddy administered life saving treatments to her. Captain Rowland said the elderly woman was laying on her mattress for five days. He said you could see the water mark on the walls where the flood waters had floated the mattress up to almost the ceiling.
Next our pastor spoke. He not only spoke about Buddy (whom he knew) but he also spoke about heroes. Not those who hit or catch or throw a ball but real heroes! People who step outside their comfort zones. People who are selfless. People who will do whatever it takes, even or especially under dire circumstances, in spite of the risk to their own life.
I watched the soldiers, Buddy’s friends. Captain Rowland had to stop twice to compose himself when talking about Buddy. The other three guys were almost ready to break down and openly cry but they kept it together. It’s difficult to explain but it did me good to see their emotions still so raw after all these years. They later told me that this is really the first time they had the chance to say goodbye.
I was holding together pretty good… until taps began. Something about that lone bugler playing that sad song off in the distance.
After the Wreath Laying Ceremony it was time to adjourn to our community clubhouse where we all enjoyed a catered bar-b-que spread. There were stories about Buddy’s life. There were laughs. But the best thing of all is the way our little grandson played with those big burly soldiers of the Oklahoma National Guard. They picked him up like he was a rag doll and tossed him around. To hear their laughs, to hear his little giggles to see all their smiles and watch them begin, what I believe will be a life-long relationship, was very healing for me. And when he gets a little older I think our little grandson will appreciate not only his Daddy Buddy’s life but also appreciate his new soldier friends of the OKNG!
In spite of the circumstances that brought us to that day, Sunday, February 19, 2012 was a pretty good day.