My father died in 2004. It was time. He had led a good and full life. I gave the eulogy at his funeral and didn’t muck it up too bad. Then….then the following happened, just like my cousin David Tucker wrote:
The program said “Honors by Marine Corps.” Wait, he was a Marine? WWII? He never said much about it to me, nothing, in fact. He’d drive up to Parris Island when he was on vacation to just visit and get nostalgic. I don’t believe it. The mild mannered Jack Tucker, who hardly ever raised his voice, and certainly never in my presence, was a leatherneck, a jarhead?
I sat in silence in my pew, listening for what I was sure was going to be some hokey reservists making a mockery of the mass, which up to that point had been reverent, joyful and even a bit solemn.
Not a sound, for minutes, or was it hours? I couldn’t hear anything. No footsteps, no cadence being counted, then, the scuff of a shoe. It was all I could do not to turn my head and look up the aisle to the back of the Cathedral – where were these guys and what were they doing? Finally, they started by; movement, black, blue, red stripe, white gloves, gliding silently past my elbow and up to the front aisle.
They slid past us, single file, bugler in front, then two more enlisted men and finally the captain. Moving, turning, comfortable, confident, not missing a beat or a column left, un-spoken commands, cadence, sharp and smooth.
They passed in front of the pew, did another left and I watched the cpt. march in place as the other three moved up the left aisle a ways and halted. Someone had folded an American flag over the front of the side pews and the two EM’s guided on that until they halted as one.
The bugler turned and brought the bugle to his lips. I held my breath. I can’t do taps without crying, thinking of all those who have gone before, men and women who have fought and died for us, for me. My dad, Jack’s brother, Stanley, who fought in WWII as a Navy Commander and harbor pilot. Playing Hearts on the train back from SF and finishing the 100th game as the train pulled into Baltimore. Today was different. I held on, biting my lip. Damn, it was hard.
The sound was sweet, pure and low. No ear-blasting, missed notes, no spit dripping from the valve. Then it was over. The Cathedral echoed with the sounds, slowly dying, like Jack.
The flag detail waited for a moment, and then lifted the flag off the railing and stood, holding it taut and level. It was a bit hokey, since it had a gold fringe around the edge. Somebody forgot to bring the official “flag you get buried with”, from the VA, and this was the church’s flag. It didn’t matter, the marines treated it with utmost respect, like the symbol it was. They folded in perfect silence and style. You’ve seen it in the movies and on TV, but not like this. After the two sergeants had done the folding, and tucking and shaping, the senior Sgt. saluted the flag in the junior’s gloved hands. What was this all about? Then the junior handed it to his senior and did the same thing. I got it and gulped. Man, this wasn’t getting any easier.
The senior Sgt. must have held the salute for a full ten count before recovering. Turning smartly about face, he slowly marched to the commander, carrying the flag as though it was the most important thing on earth. He halted in front of the Captain, who saluted as well, before receiving the flag triangle and stepping off to a position in front of Jack’s son, Guy, sitting directly in front of me.
The captain held the flag out to Guy and said “Sir, on behalf of the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, please accept this flag as a token of our appreciation for your loved one’s service. Semper Fidelis.”
I couldn’t hear Guy’s response, as I was trying to keep the storm from bursting out all over me. My ears were ringing and I was shaking with emotion. Guy later told me he didn’t know how to respond, so he did the only thing he could and repeated what Jack used to say: “Semper Fi.” That says it all.
Jack Tucker, faithful husband, father, mentor, coach, Chubb guy, advocate, photographer, friend, uncle, grandfather. Semper Fi, Jack.