I work as a custodian at a medium sized church in a medium sized town. When I heard that we would be holding the memorial service for Tyler Davis, a young man killed in Afghanistan, my first concern was that half the town might turn up. My second concern was that we might get the group of people infamous for protesting soldier’s funerals. I am not proud that my sorrow at the loss of this young man didn’t occupy the front of my mind.
I tried not to forget that as we prepared for the Friday service, but I stayed busy with other things. I set an overflow room and the church put the local police in charge of the parking. The police were prepared to handle any protestors. Their free speech and assembly would not be denied. But they would not be allowed to pass onto the property. Then the media, social and public, got wind of the rumor of protestors. The nets came alive with incredulity and rage at the thought of this young man’s honor being disrespected in such a way.
Friday came. The service was scheduled for one p.m. and before 10 a.m. there were people. I went up to have a look and there were people with lawn-chairs and American flags. There was a police chaplain prepared to talk to any protestor. News trucks from Los Angeles arrived. One reporter managed to find our senior pastor and ask him some questions. They had more to do with the potential protestors and less to do with the fallen soldier. More people arrived. I wondered how many were there to honor Tyler Davis and how many were hoping for fireworks.
The local police arrived before 10 and began to control traffic entering the parking lot. I stayed with them to direct parents arriving to pick up kids from camp. Shortly after that, the Patriot Guard arrived. From the south, between 40 and 50 Harley Davidson Motorcycles ridden by several different clubs/gangs rumbled up, circled, and backed up to the sidewalk in front of the church. Cheers went up. Motors roared. The police looked a little nervous. I found myself caught up in the circus show. Then the hearse arrived.
I’ve seen several memorial services at my church. This was the first time I had seen a coffin brought in. While most people stayed out at the street, several veterans with flags stood lining the way from the curb to the church’s front doors. The pastor asked me to open the double doors, and I never imagined there would be such honor in unlocking and blocking open two doors I clean every week. I stood back. It got very quiet. Moments later a call was given and the veterans lining the path raised their flags. Young men in smart dress uniforms slowly walked through the line carrying a flag-draped coffin.
Very few of the huge crowd were there to see that. But I saw it. And at that moment, it was no longer about the circus, protestors, TV trucks or motorcycles. I remembered what the day was about. This was a day for a family that had lost a boy.
I don’t know how many people showed up at the church in order to counter-protest. The word had gotten out that there would be protestors, but they never showed. I kept wondering, how much of the town would have been there if there had never been the threat? It may not have been a very positive thought. I was just as guilty of forgetting what the day was about. And yes, there was cheering outside the funeral for the show of American muscle. But regardless of the reason, people were there. And if they were there to show up protestors, they were still there in numbers, still waving flags as the procession left through town. They were supporting their hometown hero, regardless of motives.
And look at what the empty threat of the abhorrent protestors did. This so-called church that I thought did nothing but evil managed to bring more people out in a show of encouragement.
None of this, however, takes away from this simple fact: A mother lost her son. As much as I want to support our troops and my country, seeing the soldiers carry the flag draped coffin moved me like nothing ever has before. I won’t go any further there. Just this last point: thank you to all the soldiers. I hope… I wish you can come home alive.