When the Internet and phones go down on Camp Leatherneck, there's a chance that it is because someone has died. They do that so that the family can be notified before people start posting stuff on Facebook. Today, we lost a U.S. Marine.
When a service member dies in combat, there is a special ceremony that takes place at the air field as the body gets loaded onto the plane to fly back to the States. I didn't want to go today as it is very emotional. But I had just transferred my patient out of the intensive care unit and had no excuse not to go.
There were probably a couple hundred of us, service members from not just the U.S but the U.K., Denmark, Estonia and Georgia. We were assembled into a mass formation and stood for what seemed like hours by the airfield. Then, file by file, we marched onto the airfield and stood behind a C-17 or a C-130; I'm horrible at naming air craft.
The sun had just set below the horizon. As we approached the aircraft, I could see that the back end was open, ready to receive cargo. It was empty, except for one large American flag that had a soft light behind it, illuminating it in the falling darkness.
We were then ordered to present arms, and salute the silver coffin as it passed in front of us to be loaded on the plane. I recognized several of the Marines carrying the coffin; they work in the mortuary affairs department in the hospital and we always joke around when we see each other. It was very different, seeing them today, marching somberly and staring straight ahead as they carried our their fallen comrade.
As the body was being loaded, some rockets went off. I'm not sure if they were part of the ceremony or if we were actually firing at someone. And then we were told to order arms. The whole formation dropped their salutes. It didn't matter if you didn't speak English; you still knew what to do. And then we were dismissed.
I'm glad I attended the ceremony. I don't always do well with emotional things, but I'm glad that I got to help see this young man home.
Part 12 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier