Monday, March 24, 2008

Sorry for the delay . . .

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!

Our day started out very early, 5:30am, because we had to go through a vehicle inspection and identity check before we would be allowed on the base at Ft. Myer. Ft. Myer is one of the military installations that are adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Cousin Suzie told us to "be sure and get to the fort early" because it would take some time to get in, find the chapel, and secure a seat. Thanks Suzie! NOT! We left our hotel at 7am and arrived at the Ft. Myer gate at 7:04am! It took us about 3 minutes to get through the inspection and were on our way to the chapel! We then sat for an hour and a half waiting to go into the chapel. This really wasn't a bad thing to happen because we got to see some of the preparations that the Army went through so everything would be perfect for my Uncle Wilber.

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 Richmond that morning and were there before us. I saw people I hadn't seen in twenty years or more. There were photographers and cinematographers everywhere you looked. After about an hour, we removed ourselves from the warm car and stood with the rest of the shivering crowd in front of the chapel, waiting on my Aunt Peck and her children. The stretch limo which ferried her the entire four blocks from the nice quarters she was allotted was about a city block long! I have no idea how it maneuvered around those small streets in the fort or even in the cemetery later.

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 United States and the world in SMA George Wilber Dunaway’s honor that March day.


Anonymous said...

The ten horses brought in for the Caisson Section have been renamed for Sergeants Major of the Army: Wooldridge, 2-3 year old gelding – named for the 1st Sergeant Major of the Army, William O. Wooldridge. Dunaway, 2-3 year old gelding – named for the 2nd Sergeant Major of the Army, George W. Dunaway. Copeland, 2.5 year old gelding – named for the 3rd Sergeant Major of the Army, Silas L. Copeland. Van Autreve, 6 year old gelding – named for the 4th Sergeant Major of the Army, Leon L. Van Autreve. Connelly, 10 year old gelding, named for the 6th Sergeant Major of the Army, William A. Connelly. Morrell, 10 year old gelding, named for the 7th Sergeant Major of the Army, Glen E. Morrell. Gates, 3 year old gelding, named for the 8th Sergeant Major of the Army, Julius W. Gates. Kidd, 3 year old gelding, named for the 9th Sergeant Major of the Army, Richard A. Kidd. Hall, 12 year old gelding, named for the 11th Sergeant Major of the Army, Robert E. Hall. Tilley, 10 year old gelding – named for the 12th and current Sergeant Major of the Army, Jack L. Tilley.

Anonymous said...
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Country Liv . . . said...

It seems to me if I was quoting what was told to us by the Army, it must be true. I know nothing of the 1st SMA so I took out the reference, but why were we told that? Comment?