Honoring The Blood, Sweat, Tears Of Our Fallen
by U.S. Army Pfc. Matthew Rabahy
June 13, 2019
In Evergreen Cemetery, families of two or three scattered among
the sea of headstones stroll in a seemingly listless way, but the
way everyone has their head down and eyes scanning hints to an
earnest search. Eventually, a party will drop anchor and moor to a
single grave. All just gaze quietly at the name and date and wring
dry whatever memories of their loved one flood their minds.
On particular days, Soldiers in dress-blue uniforms join the
Families visiting the cemetery. This group of Soldiers is part of
the 4th Infantry Division funeral honor guard team, and it’s their
duty to make sure servicemembers are laid to rest with the proper
respect and finality.
The honor guard arrives at the
cemetery long before the deceased’s Family. They rehearse all the
different elements of the service to perfection one final time.
Slip-ups will not go unnoticed.
Members of the honor
guard must be virtually flawless from head to toe: crisp berets
positioned directly over the left eye, and shiny, black dress shoes
that land precisely where and when needed.
Staff Sgt. Luis Ortiz, a musician assigned to the 4th Infantry Division Band, performs Taps during a full military honors service Feb. 12, 2019, at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The service was held in honor of Maynard Miller, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and the Korean Conflict. (U.S Army photo by Pfc. Matthew Rabahy)
The honor guard is regularly reminded of the significance and
sacrifice of military service.
Staff Sgt. Jose Velasquez, the
noncommissioned officer in charge of the pallbearers and rifle team,
understands the critical role he and his Soldiers play in the lives
of their fellow Soldiers and their Families.
to remember the legacy the generations before us laid, Velasquez
said. “We’ve done honors for people who in were in Vietnam, people
that were in the first invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, people that
– before we were even born, before we were even an idea – were
sacrificing their blood, sweat and tears for our country so that we
can be here.”
It can be difficult to face mortality head-on
so frequently and in such a personal way, but it’s important that
the honor guard retains their professionalism for the Families.
“It’s not easy, because at some point everyone has lost
someone,” Velasquez said. “At a certain point, you just have to
block that out, because it’s not about us - it’s about honoring the
Soldiers and honoring their Families.”
The honor guard isn't
just reminded of the importance of their role from experiencing the
services and reflecting upon its significance afterward; they are
told personally by people who have felt firsthand just how powerful
it is to have Soldiers by their side honoring their loved ones with
Velasquez said he remembers a time during rehearsal
when a fellow Soldier approached him and what it meant for her when
she had the honor guard present for her husband’s funeral.
“She said, ‘I want you guys to take this detail very seriously.
This detail isn't just a detail; this is not just something you’re
just getting thrown into.’ It hits a lot closer to home than we
realize, because we don't know the service members or families, but
when it’s someone in your family or in your unit, it’s
Velasquez said he stills feels the impression
that this encounter left on him, and, more importantly, the
impression it left on the Soldiers under him.
Nunez, a flag-folder on the team, is one of those Soldiers who has
come to understand the gravity of his role.
Cpt. Gale Premer, assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, presents a flag to Beverly Miller in honor of her late husband, Maynard Miller, during a full military honors service held at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Feb. 12, 2019. The couple was married for 65 years. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Matthew Rabahy)
“To this day, I still get jitters from the 21-gun salute,” Nunez
said. “The final folding of the flag always touches my heart knowing
that those were people that served before us.”
as funeral services can be, Nunez said he knows he has to be strong
for the Families.
“We are the face of the
Army,” he said. “We have to maintain our professionalism even though
some of these ceremonies can be tear-jerkers. We have to maintain
our composure. We have to be rock-solid for the Family.”
Nunez said he is especially proud to be on the funeral honor guard,
because he is the first person in his family to join the military.
Being able to represent the military in such a literal and public
manner is a great privilege for him.
“Some people see this
as a detail, but I see this as an honor. There’s a plethora of
Soldiers on Fort Carson, but we were the chosen few that actually
get the opportunity to render honors to fallen Soldiers.”
Velasquez said he is used to working by himself in his
counter-intelligence military occupation, but this privilege shifted
his priorities when he was put in a leadership position over junior
“I went from having no Soldiers in my
section to leading ten Soldiers,” Velasquez said. “Having the
opportunity to train and mentor these Soldiers is the best part. In
the NCO Creed, it says ‘all Soldiers are entitled to outstanding
leadership; I will provide that leadership.’ And that is something
that sticks near and dear to me.”
Though a good leader can
impart a great deal of wisdom to those they lead and mentor, some
lessons they just can’t teach.
“One of the chaplains once
said during a funeral service, ‘If you look at the tombstone, you
see a year of birth and year of death, but at what point did that
person live their life?’ And he said it’s in the dash. The dash is
between those two points, that’s where that person left their legacy
And it is up to the Soldiers of the funeral team to
honor that legacy right up to the final volley of the gun salute and
the presentation of a flag to a grief-stricken family member.
Honoring The Fallen |
Don't Weep For Me |
Remember The Fallen |
Tears For Your Fallen |
U.S. Army Gifts |