Friday, January 29, 2016

Standing at Attention

Within the span of one week, two young men from the tony seaside suburb where I live were strikingly affected by the global military industrial complex.

On January 16, 2016, 30 year-old Matthew Trevithick, who had been imprisoned by the Iranian government for undisclosed reasons, was released and returned home to America.

Two days earlier, on January 14, 2016, 23 year-old Marine Corporal Christopher Orlando was one of 12 people who were lost in a helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii while in the midst of training exercises. The search for the bodies was suspended after five days and Cpl Orlando and his colleagues were presumed dead.

Our tiny town organizes welcome parades for military veterans when they return home, to say thank you and to help with the vet's re-entry into small town life. While Cpl Orlando was not returning home, our Veteran's Services Department and our local emergency responders asked the community to stand vigil as a show of respect for the family as they returned home from services and debriefing with the Marines in Hawaii.

For some reason, BMG and I decided to attend.

The family was scheduled to roll into town at approximately 7:00 PM. The route for their police escort was published by our local police department. So, at 6:40 PM we left our home and headed to the library to park and stand vigil.

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I was surprised by the thousands of people lining the five miles of Main Street, solemnly holding flags and thank you signs featuring the official Marine portrait of the now dead Marine. Surprised by the number of families - with children of all ages - who waited in the freezing temperatures for the convoy to roll through town. Surprised by the young parents with baby carriages who gently soothed their crying infants as the wind gently whipped past us.

Surprised and moved to tears.

We watched the police department's Twitter feed to keep apprised of the family's progress from the airport to home. It was there that we learned that emergency responders from across the state were lining bridges across the highway to pay their respects. We met up with some neighbors and, as the Twitter feed and occasional siren told us they were near our stretch of Main Street, we silenced our chatter and stood at attention.

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It wasn't until 8:00 PM that the family, escorted by nearly a dozen police vehicles, slowly drove past. As they did, I silently sobbed, imagining their anguish at the loss of their beloved son, the loss of potential, and, hopefully, their understanding that their community would support them through their grief.

Both BMG and I couldn't understand why we chose to join our community in this display of patriotism and pride. We don't know the family. We don't have children and wouldn't begin to pretend we understand what the parents and siblings are going through. And we aren't law and order people; standing up for the military isn't one of the community actions that make drives either one of us. But, I'm glad we paid attention to the impulse in our hearts and went. It feels like one of the most meaningful things I've done in a long time.

RIP Cpl Orlando, and Semper Fi.

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