The three volleys fired during a military funeral signify the passing of an honored comrade in arms. This custom can be traced to early Roman soldiers, who honored their dead by casting earth upon the grave, calling their name and saying "farewell" three times.
I traveled to California to say farewell to my sister Rose, who died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 54. She had served in the Women's Army Corp during The Vietnam War and received a military funeral in Riverside, Calif.
In her honor, I was presented with the commemorative American Flag and the three brass casings from the fired volleys. Leaving the funeral and rushing to catch my flight left no time for repacking my bag to accommodate the flag, which had been folded in the traditional triangular shape. I raced into the terminal with it securely in my arms. The walk through the airport was an emotional experience. People looked at the flag and then at me with compassion and respect.
"I'm sorry for your loss," many said as they hurried past. While taking the automated walkway, I thought of my sister. Trying to hold back tears, I held the flag tightly to my chest. Across the aisle, headed in the opposite direction, a dozen or so young men, perhaps a high school sports team, looked at me and simultaneously gave a thumbs up. My sadness mixed with pride as I realized this was their salute, their show of respect.
Arriving at the gate, a gentleman respectfully stood and gestured to his seat. I sat next to a young mother who was explaining to her child why I was carrying the flag -- "Because someone died who had served our country," she explained.
Boarding the plane people moved and ushered me ahead, patting my arm and expressing condolences. Finally situated, I closed my eyes and marveled at the reverence the flag had been shown. Then I heard, "Linda Feist, please come to the front of the plane."
After making my way up the aisle, a flight attendant took my arm and politely pointed toward a seat. "My crew asked me to extend this courtesy to you," she said. It was a first class ticket. I thanked them and thought how I would always remember this day. The day I buried my sister, the day of immeasurable kindness, the day I felt patriotism so profoundly.
During my connecting flight a stewardess said she saw me walking through the airport. "It was quite an impressive sight," she said, "to see the commemorative flag being carried and so many knowing what it symbolizes."
Arriving home, I was anxious to relay these extraordinary experiences to my husband and daughter. "I was in awe of how many people were genuinely affected by seeing the flag," I said. "I felt a universal reaction, whether it was from those who knew what it symbolized or not."
My daughter, who is in her mid-20s, was quite moved. "Mom, do you have a renewed sense of faith in our country by this show of patriotism?" she asked. I thought carefully about her question.
"I've always felt it, sensed it," I said. "I was just one of the fortunate ones to experience it."
That day, on March 6, 2002, I felt as though my sister traveled with me. I proudly carried the flag in her honor. I realize now the flag is a symbol for so many others who went before her and will continue after her. When we honor the flag we honor them.
LINDA FEIST lives in Hamburg.
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