Twenty One Guns for Veteran’s Day

Here in the United States, today is Veteran’s Day, which, as the name suggests, is a day used to honor men and women that served in our armed forces.  That said, I’d like to thank all of you who’ve served to protect the rest of us.

My favorite veteran was my Granddaddy who raised me.  He’s the only father I ever knew, and he passed away when I was seventeen.  He was a Major in the Air Force as well as a Provost Marshall during World War II and the Japanese reconstruction afterward, though he’d retired by the time I came along.

This was one of Granddaddy’s favorite military photos… An old actor named Pat O’Brien visited the troops overseas, and Granddaddy got to meet him.

When he died, it was one of the darkest days of my life.  Not just because he was gone… but because I had a gut feeling compelling me to go by the V.A. hospital and see him that morning, and I ignored it and drove right by the hospital in favor of going to see my then-boyfriend instead.  He died only an hour or so after I would’ve been there.  Granddaddy hated that I was dating that jerk (who I ended up marrying).  In fact, since I was thirteen, that boyfriend was one of the major sources of our contention.

Granddaddy’s on the right. The calendar on the wall says “May 1960.”

I hate more than anything that my granddaddy died not knowing that I eventually left the jerk.  I hate that he died thinking that I threw away my life because I was so obsessed with that boyfriend.  I hate that he died not knowing that I eventually went on to college and worked in a law office and raised my own children with the high educational value that he instilled in me.  I hate that he died not knowing that while I argued with him as a teenager, I went on to appreciate all he tried to do for me and the reason he was so stern, even though I always thought his rules were too strict when I was a kid.  I hate that he died while I was angry at him for doing things like sending a private investigator to follow me while I was dating the loser, then challenging me with how awful the boyfriend was which only made me cling harder to the jerk to prove Granddaddy wrong.  And I hate that I never got the chance to tell Granddaddy how right he was about him after all.

Granddaddy’s the guy in the helmet walking between those two rows of helmeted guys, and his white belt is not as fancy as theirs for some reason.

Anyway, Granddaddy had a military funeral.  And ever since then, I can’t hear “Taps” without crying.  I wrote this poem to honor him and his memory, and if anywhere from the afterlife he knows what’s going on here on earth, I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to him for anytime I ever disappointed him.

“Twenty-One Guns”
By Rachel A. Carrera

The day that they put you
Down into the ground,
Blared the twenty-one guns with
The resonating sound.

The horn, it did ring
As the bugler played “Taps;”
Your eyes were closed;
You looked so relaxed.

In a neat triangle
They folded the flag;
They stood at attention;
Not a one of them lagged.

I willed you not to go,
But my appeal was moot;
The men looked at your body,
Gave their final salute.

A handful of dirt
And a rose on the top;
I wanted to scream,
To tell them to stop.

But they lowered you down
And they laid you to rest;
I tried not to cry,
I did my best.

But my tears did escape
And they rolled down my cheek;
Never again
Would I hear your voice speak.

Never again
Would I look in your eyes;
They shoveled in dirt
As I realized:

You were gone from this earth
To the heavens above;
Though you’re no longer here
You still have my love.

The seven armed soldiers
Each fired three rounds
To send you off properly;
You were homeward bound.

Talk to me: Do you have the day off work today?  Are you traveling anywhere?   How many military veterans do you know?

27 thoughts on “Twenty One Guns for Veteran’s Day

  1. A beautiful remembrance of your Granddaddy. What possible words of comfort are there for such deeply held regrets? Somehow, though, I believe that your grandfather was trying to spare you a painful ordeal, but surely also knew that should you choose that path, you would still emerge from it intact.

  2. Every elder in my family was a veteran somewhere. My grandfather served between WWI and WWII. His brothers and all the rest of my great uncles were in WWII. Some of my great aunts were too. I became eligible just after Vietnam and did not serve. I’m thinking of all of them today.

  3. I think a lot of people have these feelings about people after they’ve passed but we can’t keep beating ourselves up about it. We just have to tell ourselves that they would have understood, which is most likely true. Love the vintage photos.

  4. Your grand-dad is wearing what was called a duty belt–white for dress. The other guys are wearing cartridge belts–white for dress. The white helmets and belts are worn by ceremonial or honor units. It looks like there was a visiting dignitary inspecting the unit. It’s a military courtesy to have visiting officers from other commands inspect some of the troops.

    • Rob, thank you so much! I was hoping someone would catch the hint and tell me. 🙂 I’ve got a ton (okay, not a tone, but a handful) of his old military photos and I don’t even know what half of them are, much less how to put them in sequential order with the different uniforms. 🙂

  5. You did yourself proud with this poem for granddaddy, Rachel. A beautiful verse. Do not beat yourself up for the strife between you because of that boyfriend. He did what he did out of love for you. You were doing what you did out of love, too, for the person you eventually married. My belief is that where he is now, he knows how things turned out for you in the end and how you feel about him. Happy Veterans Day to you for your beloved Granddad, my friend.

    • Thank you so much, Mark! This is part of my Asperger’s brain…you know how I remember everything I hear? Well, I also remember everything as far as how what I heard made me feel at the time. It’s blessing and a curse. 🙂

  6. Beautiful tribute. I would think your grandfather would approve of all you’ve done to improve your life–we’ve all made mistakes. And if there is an afterlife, I hope he’s giving you a 21 gun salute for your apology. 🙂
    The only family member of mine that served in the military was my grandfather, who was drafted during WWI, shortly after he arrived in the US from Russia. My dad’s eyesight was so bad that he couldn’t enlist during WWII. My younger daughter’s boyfriend is a veteran–Afghanistan and Iraq.

  7. Perfect.
    I do believe in the afterlife (heaven) and I do believe your granddaddy is able to guide you in the right directions now that he is invisible.
    Perfect tribute Rachel. He must be grinning from ear to ear.

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