byFather Richard Erikson
Airmen and Soldiers form up to honor fallen service members at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq, April 7. U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kevin Williams
Many Catholic Communities in the Archdiocese of Boston have had the solemn and difficult task of celebrating the Rite of Christian Burial for a member of the Armed Services who has lost his or her life in war. These Masses are often part of the many honors the fallen hero receives.
Recently, Father Redmond Raux, a chaplain with the 506th Air Expeditionary Group and priest of the Archdiocese of Boston ordained in 1982, reflected on his experience of honoring a fallen soldier in Kirkuk, Iraq. His piece entitled, “Fallen Soldier: A chaplain's silent prayer,” was published last month on the Web site of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.
I have included his reflections here for your own reflection and prayer. The "C-130" to which Father Raux refers is a large military aircraft.
Recently we experienced the loss of a Soldier assigned here.
For many Airmen, it was the first ramp ceremony they ever participated in. We formed up in the parking lot adjacent to the flightline and performed the required facing movements.
Some 120 strong, we followed the 400 Soldiers and marched to take up position behind the C-130 that flew in to begin this Soldier's journey home. We stood in solemnly formation, Soldiers facing Airmen, and were called to attention by the sergeant major.
We presented arms as the pallbearers began their journey between the formations toward the C-130.
As we stood at attention with arms raised in salute to our fallen comrade, the muffled cadence of the pallbearers as they quick-stepped their way between Soldier and Airmen was the only sound that broke the stillness of the afternoon.
With eyes facing forward, the shuffle of the boots got louder. Into my peripheral vision, the chaplain led pallbearers who moved in synchronized step as they carried the flag-draped transfer case.
His fellow platoon members moved across my field of vision from left to right, their boots sounding the cadence on the taxiway, then moving out of sight.
Once again, only the sound of boots on concrete could be heard as they moved their precious cargo. The muffled sounds of the boots took on a hollow sound as they started up the metal ramp into the body of the plane. The sound became harsh and reverberating as the sound echoed between the ramp and the concrete.
Then it was only the imagination that visualized the placement of the fallen Soldier within the plane.
On command, we released the salute and once more, the hollow sound of boots on metal reverberated as the pallbearers exited the plane. This time their step was quicker as they marched between the formation of troops, the flag bearers leading the chaplain and pallbearers.
Standing at attention, I gazed at the Soldiers facing me, very much aware of the Airmen I stood with, having a keen awareness of my own mortality.
We come into this world and through the choices we've made in our lives, we are here in a foreign land. The prayer I silently utter to my God is for safe travel for the departed Soldier on his final journey home and for the safety of those who serve and stand in harm's way.
My thoughts turn to family and friends who support me with their prayers and uplift me with their e-mails, cards and packages.
We do not stand alone; we are Airmen who come from a “family” at home, a family of immediate members, and of our extended family of base, parish and community.
Lord, watch over those who serve this day -- sustain our loved ones at home with the knowledge that we serve to bring freedom and peace to our world ... Amen.
Father Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.