The Army has a tradition of conducting memorial services to remember soldiers who have died.
Memorial services are held when the unit marks the passing of a soldier, but the actual funeral is elsewhere. Family members may attend a unit memorial service, but that is not required.
If attending, family and friends are typically honored guests. However, the memorial service affords the unit an opportunity to say goodbye to a soldier.
Any memorial service is understandably sad because the service pays tribute to young a soldier who has died.
This is an opportunity for soldiers, family, and friends to honor the good memories and come together to comfort one another in a time of loss.
Naturally, the tribute begins in a rather somber setting. A chaplain typically speaks and says a prayer, but the main speakers are a soldier’s commander and his friends. The people who knew him also have a chance to talk about him.
Often, a funny story will break the solemnity and bring a little laughter. Soldier humor can be a little rough sometimes. Soldiers are so often so very young.
A unit memorial service is filled with young people paying tribute to another young person.
The youth of the participants is a reminder of the sacrifices our freedom demands — our youth.
Sometimes accidents claim soldiers’ lives. Young men and women in uniform can be victims of the same types of accidents that claim civilians. Nonetheless the tribute is different. The loss of youth is very sad. But the service of that youth should inspire us.
Young people who are prepared to sacrifice their futures so that the rest of us can do the things we want to do are very special people.
We owe those young soldiers our acknowledgment of their lives and unfulfilled dreams because they made a sacrifice that no one wanted to make.
A poignant reminder that these services are for a soldier, a warrior even, is the substitute for a headstone — laced boots in front of an inverted rifle with a helmet on the stock.
The Soldier’s Guide explains the helmet as a reminder of the soldier. The inverted rifle and bayonet indicate a time for prayer because there is a break in action. The combat boots signify the final march to battle.
A noncommissioned officer calls roll and recognizes the absence of the soldier. The echo of the unanswered call of the soldier’s name is a haunting reminder of a lost comrade who will not be forgotten.
Three volleys of rifle fire and taps being played mark the final tribute. The finality of the notes marks the formal end of the service.
This also serves as a reminder of the loss, and it challenges all present to hold precious those memories.
There is little more emotionally moving to me than a soldier memorial service.
They are a reminder of the sacrifices offered by everyone who puts on a uniform. They also serve as an opportunity to reflect on the loss of a hero. The young men and women who wear that uniform are my heroes. I thank God for them every day.
John M. House is a retired Army colonel who lives in Midland, Ga. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.