Waking up in Boise, on my second day of The Tour, we walked into down town to find a quaint place for breakfast, taking our time and enjoying the day.
In a tree lined park surrounded by high rise office buildings we came upon a group of military. From every branch, men and women of all ages in various uniforms from combat to dress. They stood at ease around the the edge of the grass talking casually to one another. At one corner, lining both sides of a staircase, representatives from each branch stood at attention.
A crowd was gathering. We asked a young Marine what was going on, and learned it was some sort of early Memorial Day observance. He said there would be a choir from the local school singing Amazing Grace, speakers and such. We walked down the grassy knoll, looking around. There was a podium and a few rows of chairs arranged around two flag poles.
A young man was playing the violin: “My Country Tis of Thee,” “Battle Hymn of The Republic,” “American the Beautiful” lilting through the park.
At the base of the flagpoles was the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross. A rifle, bayonet into the ground, with a helmet hung on the gun stock, and boots placed in front.
Going back to the Civil War, it is used today in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign of respect for the fallen among the still living members of the troop. Frequently the dog tags of the fallen soldier are hung from the rifle. I do not know the name of the soldier on these dog tags.
People were gathered in small groups. Some families. A few small children. Gentle hugs of greeting. Groups of men shaking hands and slapping backs as men will do. Some in the formal business suit attire, many in motorcycle gear.
For a moment I felt as if we were crashing the event. But I noticed office workers from the surrounding buildings coming out…and other passersby stopping. We both knew without discussion that we wanted to stay.
Half a dozen people were taking pictures, so I reached for the Teamster’s camera. There was laughter and smiling.
The speaker opened by thanking the city of Boise and the company Quest for their sponsorship.
He spoke of the meaning of Memorial Day, and the importance of remembering not only those who have given their lives in military service, but also those in law enforcement and fire fighting who have been killed in the line of duty.
There were introductions of additional speakers and the honoring of a local man who was a veteran of World War II, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
There was an American Flag presented, saluted, and folded thirteen times before being laid at the Battle Cross of the Fallen Soldier.
The Stars and Stripes was presented and raised to half mast with the Idaho state flag. We pledged allegiance to our flag and sang our national anthem. We heard the stories of local men and women who have given the last full measure of their devotion in duty as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, national guard, coast guard, police officers, and fire fighters.
I wondered if this kind of ceremony would ever be allowed in my town. I sorta doubt it. The University of California at Santa Cruz is famous for violently protesting military recruiters at all career events. Certainly no public school child would ever be allowed to sing “Amazing Grace” in public. They seem to be able to celebrate with more freedom in Boise than in Santa Cruz. That makes me a bit resentful.
Three wreaths were presented in red, white and blue.
The blue wreath by an officer of the Boise police department, and the red by the local fire chief. The white wreath sent me from teary to tears. A Vietnam Vet whose own son died in Iraq.
The speaker announced that the anthem from each branch of service would be played, and invited anyone in the audience who had served to wave when their anthem was played. One by one the songs filled the downtown area.
The Caissons Go Rolling Along
Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder
From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli
Each song was greeted by spontaneous applause…and while I saw a few people wave…what I noticed was the men who snapped to attention. In jeans, or gear, or business suit…as their anthem played they stood straight and silent drawing no attention to themselves, a few with tears in their eyes.
As the commanding officer of the Idaho National Guard gave the keynote address I was distracted by a bucket of long stem red roses next to where we were standing. When the songs and speeches were finished they invited anyone in the crowd who had lost a love one in the line of duty to bring a rose to the Battle Cross of the Fallen Soldier.
Out of respect, I took no pictures as these family and friends picked up a rose and took them forward. Young women with babies. An older woman crying on the arm of her son. The sunglassed guy in the armani suit. Fathers and Mothers holding tight to one another. Quite a few kneeled at the cross for a moment as they left their rose.
There were salutations and the bugle played taps. We walked away quiet and in awe of the experience. Although we were strangers, our patriotic hearts were touched by the emotional tribute we had stumbled upon that morning in Boise, Idaho.