Friday, September 10, 2004

A military funeral

Joe's funeral card Posted by Hello

Today was the day they buried my friend Joe Thibodeaux, the local soldier who was killed in Iraq. As a veteran funeral-goer, I find that every service I attend falls into one of three categories:

1) The old funeral--at this service, someone lived to a very old age and death isn't entirely unexpected. People in this category are often terminally ill or otherwise lost it many years prior.

2) The "it-was-just-their-time" funeral--these people are often cut down in late adulthood (or even young adulthood) as a result of some short-term disease. Though the cause of death often takes hold quickly, it does give the victims enough time to come to terms with dying.

3) The "tragic" funeral--people who just plain SHOULD NOT BE DEAD. The decedent is usually young and dies in an accident of some sort or homicide/suicide. In this situation, a funeral service is the saddest; mourners really mourn and people really cry. Some are simply too shocked to express emotion. When military service or other heroics are involved, people cope by reflecting on the heroism and nobility of the cause of death.

Joe's funeral was most definitely a type three. It brought together several members of my graduating class in a tearful high school reunion. The service was conducted very well, with a wake at the funeral-home chapel. At 10:45, we all joined a motorcade to the church for the funeral itself. As we passed Lafayette High School, we were met with this:

LHS students greet the motorcade Posted by Hello

The entire student body, along with a 100-foot-high American flag and a Bette Midler medley, greeted us along both sides of the street. This picture doesn't do it justice; this was really AMAZING. During my time at LHS, we had greeted funeral motorcades more than once; but never with the reverence and the pomp that met us today. It was elaborate without being gaudy, and the students (for the most part) showed respect.

The church service was held at Holy Cross Catholic Church and was well-done. Joe's older brother Max, himself a soldier based in Washington D.C., gave the sole eulogy. He said that Joe was a kid who found happiness in "a fast car and having someone to hold." Max also told of the infant Joe's "ability to climb out of windows" and his ability to create a diversion so that he could do so. Joe, he said, was one who always lived at home yet yearned for something bigger. He joined the U.S. Army in 2000, quickly becoming a crack sharpshooter. He had even hoped to enter the Olympics as a marksman, I read later. Max delivered the eulogy dressed in full military brass and contained himself well, though he broke down at the end.

Afterwards, Joe was laid to rest in a part of the Lafayette Memorial Park cemetery reserved for veterans:

Joe is laid to rest Posted by Hello

Joe received full military honors, including "Taps" and a six-gun salute. The American flag draping his coffin was folded into a triangle and handed to his grieving parents, along with his uniform set in a triangular frame. He received two military honors posthumously: a Silver Star and a promotion to Corporal.

Even after the service was officially concluded, virtually no one moved. Never have I seen everyone gathered around a funeral tent remain static as long as we all did. Even though we were all sweating buckets in the high-noon Louisiana humidity, we all wanted to stay for just 10 more minutes and say goodbye to Joe Thibodeaux. Rest in peace, man. We love you.

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