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Folded flag (copy)

U.S. Marines with the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar honor guard practice folding the American flag prior to a funeral for a deceased Marine at the base chapel on March 15, 2013 in San Diego. The flag is folded into a neat triangle, stuffed with three rounds to symbolize the three-round volley, and then presented to a family member of the deceased.

When there seemed to be no one to attend the funeral of an Air Force veteran in Texas, the Texas Veterans Land Board alerted the media, asking people to attend. After some posting and tweeting and retweeting, almost 1,000 people showed up for the funeral of a stranger.

Nebraska and Tennessee had similar situations with veterans who passed leaving no one to mourn, no one to acknowledge their passing. In all three cases, which were in the past few months, posting, tweeting and going viral gathered a crowd that otherwise would not have been present. In one case, a local television news station carried the story and it helped find a friend who served with him and a brother in another state.

Honoring veterans is the right thing to do. Anyone willing to put his or her life on the line for the rest of us should be honored, thanked and respected. Putting the announcement in the paper, on the news and other forms of social media to let people know of a passing helps to make everyone pause and reflect on the sacrifice they gave. Making it public can help find family members and that is another benefit of today’s technology.

For strangers to take time out of their day and drive distances to honor a veteran is commendable. One of the funerals had a flyover in addition to an honor guard three-volley salute. Each funeral had speakers who didn’t know the deceased, but asked others to be thankful for their service. They spoke of the sacrifice and bravery. No hero should be forgotten, but in each case, these men received the accolades after their passing.

Just as fans place flowers at the site of a famous person’s demise, or at the grave of a forgotten relative, we often wait until after their passing to recognize and act on our appreciation. Recognizing someone’s contribution after the fact seems a little late to me.

I applaud the people for gathering to honor the veterans at their funeral, but wouldn’t it be nice for those same agencies that posted about their deaths, to post about their lives? If people have no living relatives or friends and are in the system, how hard would it be to post their names and a story about their service when they are still with us?

The response could be visits, maybe offers of assistance, cards and notes of thanks for their service. They could receive visitors and accept the acknowledgement while they are able to smile and say “You’re welcome.”

This is not just an issue with veterans; it is a common occurrence with all. When elders are in their homes, and getting around somewhat successfully, albeit slowly, they often spend days on end alone. Once they are moved to an assisted living or hospice, the entire clan sweeps in to pay last respects and talk a blue streak about their own aches and pains and woes while the resident listens kindly.

Could they have stopped in months earlier to offer to rake the lawn, or to drive them to a doctor’s appointment?

Could they have oiled a squeaky hinge or brought over groceries or just sat and had a cup of tea?

We all know people who could use a visit, and many of us might sooner or later be the ones who would like a visitor. If we have something to say, if we want to honor someone who has done something for us, if we want to show we care, we might want to do it before the last rites are administered.

A flyover at our gravesite might be a nice gesture, but I’ll take an unexpected visit while I can chat over guns and roses anytime.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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