“Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale” – TTG

Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York                March 22, 2014

My wife’s father passed away after a long battle with dementia. His life was no picnic. Nor was it a tragedy. He worked hard his entire life only to be let go just before he was able to retire. It was a classic case of age discrimination. He kept working at other jobs until he was seventy. Both his wife and his only son died years ago. Like us all, he was a sinner and a child of God. His daughter cared for him from our home in Virginia. It was practically a full time job. 

He enlisted in the Army at the tail end of WW II, serving in the Army of Occupation in Japan and in Korea prior to that little dust up. Returning home, he began a career in the New York Army National Guard. He served in a tank battalion in Troy and ended his career in a Special Forces unit in Schenectady as a sergeant first class. He was always proud of his service.  

He had a simple funeral mass at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Halfmoon, New York. Before leaving the church, the religious vestment was removed from his casket and replaced by an American flag. We arranged for military honors to be rendered at his burial because we thought he would appreciate it. We expected this to be two American Legion members who would render the honors to the best of their abilities with a recording of taps. We placed his flag draped casket in the hearse and followed it across the still frozen Mohawk River and the already thawed Hudson. We made our way through the weathered streets of North Troy and to the ancient Oakwood Cemetery. The morning snow flurries had stopped with no accumulation. It was still overcast and the wind was bitterly cold. We were grateful the dreaded wintery mix did not materialize.

We turned off the paved road through the park like cemetery onto an icy, muddy gravel path to the family plot. As the hearse approached the burial site, we were shocked to see a full Army burial detail in their service blue uniforms and service caps. I heard some of my wife’s relatives wonder who were these soldiers. Were they cadets from the nearby La Salle Institute? My reply was, “No, these are regulars.” Two young sergeants and and an even younger PFC bugler stood at attention at the crest of a slight knoll to our right. The casket team removed the casket from the hearse and made their way to the grave site. The deacon from Saint Mary’s Church led the small gathering of relatives, neighbors and my wife’s friends in a short interment service and final prayer. 

The icy wind calmed into a cold breeze and the sun made a valiant effort to brighten the scene. From the crest of the knoll, three volleys of rifle fire rang out. The lone bugler played Taps. She performed admirably in spite of the cold air. The detail began folding the flag precisely and slowly. The reverence and devotion to duty were plainly visible in the young soldiers’ actions and faces. The slow, solemn salutes as the folded flag was passed to the young NCOIC of the honor detail caused me to think of all those who had fought and served under that flag. My wife took a few steps forward herself to spare the NCOIC those steps over the muddy, icy slope in his dress shoes. That’s the way she is… always thinking of others. The young sergeant approached my wife, bowed forward and began those familiar words.      

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation…”  

All the emotions I was feeling welled up as I heard those words. A tear came to my eye. Bless those young soldiers giving their all on this Saturday afternoon. Bless my father-in-law. Bless all those who have served and died, as well as those still serving and living. What a brotherhood! 

General George Henry Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, is buried close by in the family plot of his Lansingburgh, New York born wife. General Thomas was born and raised a Virginian, but found it necessary, by personal conscience and honor, to remain in the Union Army. Sergeant Rice Cook Bull, a soldier of the 123rd New York Infantry, who served under General Thomas and wrote of his experiences in the book, Soldiering, also lies nearby. These two old soldiers would recognize the oh so very young soldiers of the burial detail dressed in blue as brothers. They certainly recognized the three volleys of rifle fire and the melancholy playing of Taps.  

“And forever, brother, hail and farewell.” The words in the title of this post belong to Catullus, written in tribute to his brother, who was buried far from home near the ancient city of Troy. Catullus talks of the sad tribute of the burial rights in the ancient custom of ancestors. 

Thank God for those ancient customs of our ancestors.


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5 Responses to “Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale” – TTG

  1. Bill Roche says:

    As a fellow New Yorker from the east side of the “Dacks” I know well all the geography of which you write. Late March in the north east can be a dreary time. Today, on a magnificent May day, I attended my town’s Memorial Day remembrance. To my left was a 100 year old WW II vet, and near by a mother from Afghanistan who is now an Army officer. Some Nam vets were to my right and “Joe” a Korean vet (“I got out just in time”) rode w/me in a ’67 Pontiac GTO “can’t walk much” vets car. I was sitting next to two brothers, Chinese-American boy scouts, w/coronets. At the end of the activities the boys rose and solemnly, beautifully, played taps. Those who’ve served make up a brotherhood. I hope the nation is grateful. BTW, the Clintons were there w/other dignitaries. They had reserved seating beneath a shady tree. I sat in the sun w/t rest of the vets.

  2. Leith says:

    May your wife’s father rest in peace, he earned it.

    Spent some time this morning at a wreath laying ceremony at our local cemetery. Then to the local Memorial Day Monument with the VFW. The American Legion was there also, and the town police chief. Usually an honor guard comes from the local Coast Guard Detachment and does a rifle salute. But they are undergoing a major re-organization with a new CO and were unable to attend. So we made do with a high school bugler, very well played by the way. Plus a septuagenarian retired school mistress sang the national anthem. We read off a roll call of those departed killed in action, and the Legion Post Commander answered “Absent” for each. We are a small town, so not many on the roll call – just one dead from the so called War to End All Wars, 2o dead from World War Two, and one from Viet-Nam. Plus we gave a roll call for nine Coasties who drowned while trying to save lives on the river bar where waves can sometimes get 40 to 50 feet high depending on wind, tide, and ocean swell. The monument has only one inscription other than the names. From the bible: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Achingly fitting for the WW1 vet, a Private and non combatant stretcher bearer with the 361st Infantry, who was KIA while trying to rescue wounded on day one of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

  3. Pat Lang says:

    “Regulars?” The one in the middle needs an appt at a tailor shop.

    • TTG says:

      I found out later these were NYARNG. Soldiers volunteered for this duty, got additional training and were awarded retirement points for the duty. It was unpaid. Most were veterans from our GWOT wars.

  4. glupi says:

    My condolences

    I hope the traditions keep on.
    Our eternal fire – the symbol of eternal gratitude to those who died in our wars – is now a rubbish bin

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