I saw America today


Rod Smith, Patriot Guard Rider
October 21, 2010, Laurel , Mississippi

I saw America today.

I was among more that 200 people gathered on the tarmac at the Meridian Air Navel Station to welcome Sgt. Eric C. Newman, 30, of Waynesboro , Miss. home from Afghanistan.

He did not exit to cheers and hugs but was greeted by respectful silence. Military men and women, bikers, policemen, firemen, all in formation riveted their attention as Sgt. Newman disembarked from the plane carrying him.

He exited in a flag draped coffin, killed in action in Afghanistan.

The family stood near the hearse and as Sgt. Newman’s casket approached he was greeted by his new wife and his mother as they draped their arms around the casket where their beloved husband and son lay. There would be no married life for the newly married couple and another mother had given her son in the name of freedom.

I saw America today.

The procession formed with a police escort in front leading the hearse carrying Sgt. Newman which was followed by his family, more than 100 bikers, including the Patriot Guard Riders, scores of police officers, firemen, and friends. I rode near the front and I never could see the end of the procession as we rolled over the hills from Meridian to Waynesboro .

I saw America today.

On the 60 mile journey truckers, the big rigs, pulled to the side of the road, exited their trucks and put hand over heart in honor of Sgt. Newman and the American flag. Down the road from one big shiny rig was a humble logging truck, driver standing on the ground, hand over heart.

For sixty miles a mixture of people stood by the side of the road, flag in hand as we rolled past. At every junction where a side road entered there were people. At the overpasses there was always a fire truck displaying a large American flag. Every fire department along the way had their fire truck standing by to honor this young American who gave his life for us.

There was a young Boy Scout, in uniform, proudly saluting Sgt. Newman and the American flags that passed him.

A man in bib overalls stood by a ragged old pickup truck giving honor. Just down the road was a man dressed in suit and tie by his expensive SUV.

Something in the bright blue sky above caught my eye. It was two jet fighter planes flying over the procession, the thoughtful action of fellow soldiers.

I could see a woman kneeling, holding something out in her hands. At first I thought it must be a camera but as I passed I could clearly see it was a folded American flag. Just like the one that was given to my mother when my father died. Yes, it was her way of saying, “I lost a loved one as well.”

I saw America today.

As we left the main road and entered Waynesboro two fire trucks were parked in such a way as to form an arch with a giant American flag suspended between the two.

The streets were lined solid with people. No cars were moving. I observed someone in a wheel chair on the side of the road. When we drew closer I saw several in wheel chairs, some on crutches. They were old, and fragile. They were residents of a nursing home. On down the road there was another group from yet another nursing home, all waving tiny American flags.

As we wound our way through town hundreds of people lined the sides of the streets. We passed an elementary school. The children lined the fence three deep, most with flags, some with red, white, and blue balloons which were later released.

Next we passed the high school. Again the students respectfully lined the streets adjacent to the school. All were standing respectfully in honor of Sgt. Newman.

And did I mention the yellow ribbons? They were on trees, mailboxes, fences, and anywhere people could place them.

I saw America today.

When we had finished the escort all the bikers were asked to meet at the First Baptist Church of Waynesboro. There they gathered us up and escorted us to the Western Sizzlin ’ where the people of the town treated us to lunch for doing something of which we were proud to be a part.

Today, I saw America and I’m proud to be an American. God bless America .

t-p connect

14 Responses

  1. OK, best Veterans Day Post of the day. Damn good!

    • Being a veteran, I hate to nitpick on a story about one of our fallen heroes, but this is a story best suited for Memorial Day, not Veteran’s Day.
      I ought to be used to it by now, things like this posted on Veteran’s Day, then someone thanking our veterans on Memorial Day, but I haven’t been able to.
      They are two distinct days with a difference.

      Anyway, God Bless our troops, past-present-future, living or dead.

      • I didn’t write it for any special day but I wrote it the day after we escorted Sgt. Newman and sent it via email to a few friends never intending it to be published literally around the world. I am humbled by the publication but more humbled as I participated in a hero’s welcome home. It is also intended to show that folks in Mississippi love our country and support our troops.

      • It’s a good piece, Rod.
        Glad you and your PGR group were there to honor his return.

      • Thanks so much for writing this piece, Rod….from a fellow Mississippian.

  2. Some gave all.

  3. I have to agree with No2.
    That was moving to read but I always thought of Veterans Day as honoring all Vets whether dead OR alive…..Preferably those still with us since the others have Memorial Day.

    I watched 2 documentaries on HBO last night that were interviews with vets and also about the widepspread problem of PTSD. Letters that civil war soldiers wrote home were evidence of it back then also. In WWI AND II it was called shell shocked and other names.

    Even those who have returned from Irag or Afghanistan and “successfully” returned to civilian life are forever changed.
    I realized that Soo many have sacrificed any chance at a normal life because they cannot let go of what they experienced…….and their families sacrifice, too because they will never have back the innocent kid who joined the military.

    A woman vet who was a medic said when she got home she only wanted to sit in a corner and not eat, not talk, didn’t want to feel anything. She said she just wanted to sit in a corner and be a vegetable.

    The one comment that really brought the tears was a Marine who said even in the worst hospital situation with vets who are amputees and/or dealing with burns, etc……All will find a way to salute if someone brings in a US flag.

    One of the Marine vets asked shouldn’t there be a sort of “de-programming” for soldiers when they come home before they can be expected to join civilian life ?

    Watching all that, my heart really goes out to ALL vets out there still living and carrying around horror stories and/or worse, have Not gotten the help they needed and deserved to get better mentally after a switch from a war atmosphere to civilian life.

    Thank You to All Vets – the men and the women….especially those close to me: my DH, my dad (1909 – 2000), and many relatives.

    *
    Then it really galls me, to say the least, that the Domestic Enemy in the Oval Office has such his disdain for our military.
    He doesn’t deserve to shine their shoes….much less be commander in chief.

    • SB, you might be interested in this post I made over three years ago. It is actually more a copy/paste of an outstanding piece of research and writing by War Chick.
      As for PTSD, it is a serious problem, but a disorder that many people suffer from, not just service members.
      Every one is different in their own way. Each person’s personality matrix is complex, which means that a group of people faced with the identical experience will all react differently to it.
      I knew guys that came home from Nam just completely nutz and/or drugged out from their combat experiences. I also met a man that was one of the few survivors of the siege of Khe Sanh, who was wounded multiple times and made many night time recon missions without the night vision we have now. His entire ordeal was terrifying and lasted for months, yet he was a happy well adjusted executive with a software company.
      Services are available for our returning service members, but many refuse treatment. Some can work through it and be productive, some just lock up emotionally and mentally.
      I had my own terrifying experiences and made numerous walks through the gore and most I know think I’m just fine. Some rely on me for moral support as they find me easy to talk to without being dismissive.
      I once had a young patrolman freeze up on me the first time he saw a dead body. It never had that effect on me. It’s just my personality, I don’t freeze, I don’t panic and I also don’t hold things in, I always find a way to release those toxic emotions that would destroy me if I tried to stuff them down.
      I wish those documentaries could have included the many more who had similar experiences and either got help or were able to take it all in stride.

      • I’m glad you’re doing alright after your experiences……comparatively speaking.
        I have a 2nd cousin who, after returning in 2003 from 2 tours in Iraq, is doing well. I only know that he was a tank driver. Been successfully employed since returning. A very well adjusted guy. A friend of ours was in Iraq also and seems fine. I don’t know what he did when he was there but he’s been back home at least 4 years. But for others, seems just getting to a point of being able to talk with another who’s been thru it also…is a big step toward learning how to live with it.
        I am assuming it is one of those things that one doesn’t “get over”…one has to learn how to live with it.
        I, too, think they should have included some follow-up info. on those in the film that seemed to be doing Ok.
        I know you can’t tell how people will react to that kind of thing until they are in the thick of it.
        HBO repeated the second one this morning. It’s called “Wartorn 1861 – 2010”.
        http://www.hbo.com/documentaries#/documentaries/wartorn-1861-2010/index.html

        I’ve seen other films that Gandolfini has been in…he’s good…I just figured everyone had seen Tony Soprano.

      • I quit my HBO subscription back around 1990 over their disgusting programming. I don’t remember the particulars now, just that HBO would never get another dime out of me.

      • Oh, there are times I will still cry when I discuss some of the things I had to see and do, and can still see and smell a man burning alive in his overturned vehicle when we tried and couldn’t save him.
        But my coping mechanism when dealing with horrible things that happened to other people was always..”God Bless that poor person, they are totally screwed, but I AM OKAY.”

  4. I forgot to mention the person in the 2 HBO shows doing most, if not all the interviews….(they were more like conversations)…..was James Gandolfini (better known as Tony Soprano).

    • I watched an episode or two of the Sopranos when it was new, and HBO ran one of those free month specials. I would never subscribe to it.
      After watching some of it and came to know who they were, I just wanted to shoot them. I hate criminals and gang bangers, and no amount of glorifying them will ever change my mind.
      Gandolfini has done some other work that I thought was excellent, it’s a shame that the Sopranos will be his defining role.

  5. WOW, that got to me. Stories like that make me realize that AMERICA is not dead and still has a chance even if the A-holes in Washington are trying to bring her down.

    God bless our troops: past, present and future!!!

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