I've been composing this blog post since Saturday when an event I wasn't expecting, moved me in a very unexpected way.
A marine from Wheaton was killed in Afghanistan last month. Lance Corporal Kevin Oratowski died while on patrol. His family is a member of the church I still have membership with, but I did not know them. He was 4 years behind Carole so the chances that they were in youth group together are slim.
His funeral was held on Saturday. I had received word from my pastor about the funeral but, as I didn't know the family, I didn't file away, in my head, the particulars. I got up and went about my morning and then decided to drive to Hobby Lobby, which is east along Roosevelt Road. I was headed back, intending to stop at Dominicks for groceries and I noticed, at major intersections, policemen getting out of their cars and putting on their safety vests. This would be indicative of them needing to stop traffic for something. I couldn't, at the time, remember what.
As I came up the hill towards the grocery, I saw the flashing lights. As I was in the right lane, I instinctively slowed, unsure about what I was seeing. There were two police cars and a fire truck. They were moving rather slowly for an emergency. As the distance between us shrank, I realized it was the funeral cortege. Behind the fire truck were at least 20 members of the Patriot Guard, the Daily Herald said they were the Warrior Watch Riders. Then came the hearse and then another 8 riders and the rest of the procession.
I was pulling into the parking lot, which was a good thing because I didn't realize I would be so overcome with emotion. The procession passed slowly, going about 30 miles an hour down the hill, heading east. I parked and watched, tears streaming down my face. Even now, as I type this, 5 days removed, it's hard not to cry.
I didn't support the war in Iraq and I don't support continued action in Afghanistan. I have been told, by people who know, that I would be "astonished" at the numbers of people, of organized groups, who hate the United States with such a passion that they would attempt to attack us. While I do believe this, I also don't believe we should be the world's policeman and we certainly shouldn't be attempting to impose our form of government on people who can't understand it or make it work. What works here, and we all know we use the term "works" loosely, isn't suitable for everyone else.
But, the military was this young man's choice for his career. We need people willing to provide for our security, both at home and in lands far away from Wheaton. While I don't agree with where he was sent, I strongly support him and others like him. They provide a guarantee that I can sleep at night and only have to worry about the mosquito in the bedroom.
I came of age during Vietnam. My hometown had one son killed in action there. I heard a number of stories of how hard it was to integrate back into civilian life when you were returning from a hugely unpopular war. I think, as a nation, we have learned our lesson in how we treat our military veterans. It's about respect. Those returning must be respected as we respect anyone else. They are doing their jobs.
I hope, as the procession headed to the cemetery, many more people stopped, like me, and wished some peace for the family. I hope people paused to reflect on what it means to have people willing to give their lives so we can play football on Saturdays and grouse about taxes.
Beverage: Huckleberry Tea