I promised to fill you in on Uncle Wilber's funeral. I never thought I'd be one of those old ladies who love to talk about funerals but, seriously guys, this one was amazing. And to make it even more special was that the family had been briefed the day before about the preparations and a new development we knew nothing about! Uncle Wilber's life in the Army and his post as Sergeant Major of the Army and his subsequent death would be documented, filmed, and deposited at the Smithsonian Institute so it could be displayed in an exhibit celebrating him and his position as the first SMA. Though Uncle was technically the second SMA, we were told he was considered as first and therefore the Smithsonian Institute honor! No small feat. We are all humbled by such a great honor but at the same time very proud. Uncle Wilber never really spoke of his accomplishments when he visited us; he was just Dad's younger brother that was fun to be around!
We saw the caisson being pulled by six black horses to be delivered to the chapel. There was a marching military band with a compliment of about sixty. There were guards and changing of the guards and activity all around us. When we realized how early we would be, we thought that we would be all alone in the parking lot; didn't happen. People were already there and waiting to go into the chapel! Many of my kin came up from
We didn't have to vie for seats in the chapel, as Suzie thought; we were ushered into a "family" room to await the time when we would go, as a family, into the chapel to reserved seats. There were not many of Uncle's contemporaries (he was 85!) but the military was well represented. There were also friends Uncle had made from all over the States.
The Chaplain, William Barefield CH(LTC), opened the service with a prayer and then introduced the current Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston. The SMA told us of the many exploits of Uncle from the time he enlisted at age 18 until his death at 85; things I cannot even begin to recount. It seems that Uncle was a favorite among all ages in the Army and was a champion of the enlisted men and women.
During the service, Uncle's flag draped coffin sat in the front of the old chapel alter; it was hard not to go up to it and pay my respects, as this was the first time I had been in his presence in a while. When the service was completed, ten soldiers in dress blues came up and escorted the coffin out to the waiting caisson that was now harnessed to six white horses with three riderless saddles. The marching band struck up and marched in front of the procession all the way to the gravesite, which took about 20 minutes to complete. Uncle’s four children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren walked behind the caisson. There were cameras everywhere. When we reach the place of his interment there was a short graveside service, a 21 gun salute, and the playing of "Taps" by the marching band. I don't think there was a dry eye anywhere around us; it was quite a moving ceremony. On the way back into the fort, there were military men and women lining the streets saluting my Aunt Peck as her limo made its way back.
Once again, I must say, we were honored to be related to him. At the reception, there were many stories told of how he saved a life or made a difference in another's life. My Aunt Peck did him proud. She stood for those hours being gracious and kind to all who wanted to tender their condolences. Such a tiny little woman to have so much strength and strength of character to have been by Uncle's side, and in the Army, for 65 years!
When the reception was over, we all made our way home. I doubt I will ever see most of those kin people again.
The American Flags at all military and government buildings and installations were all flown at half staff all over the