Saturday, March 24, 2012

Grandpa's Last Hail and Farewell

On March 14, 2012, Grandpa George was laid to rest with military honors at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. A bunch of his human friends and relatives went there to say goodbye. I couldn't go, since dogs aren't allowed. ("Service" dogs are, but for some reason "feel-good" dogs don't count.) So I stayed for two nights in my doctor's slammer. And Mike thought he was stressed! Ha!

The cemetery is a beautiful place, judging from the pictures I've seen. Most of it looks like this:

I guess I can see why dogs aren't welcome there, with all those headstones sticking up just begging to be irrigated. That reminds me of something Mike said in his eulogy, but we'll get to that later.

First things first: A "graveside" service isn't really at the grave, since as you can see those are packed pretty close together, leaving no place for the mourners. Also, in the "active" section of the cemetery there are a lot of open holes in the ground, and the people who run the place don't want anyone falling in. (I'm not making that up. It's what they told M.) For that reason no one can visit this area until after 4:00 p.m., when all of the new graves have been closed.

The service was in a little covered place called a committal shelter. Here is Grandpa's casket being moved into the shelter:

And here it is inside:

The chaplain (the man in the white uniform) was scheduled to open the service, followed by M's eulogy, and then the rendering of military honors. But when M learned a few days earlier that the whole thing couldn't take more than 30 minutes, he was afraid his part might get squeezed from both ends. So before the service began, he explained to the chaplain that he needed 15 or 20 minutes and didn't want to be rushed. The chaplain then suggested that they have the military honors in the middle and the eulogy last. And that's what they did.

The chaplain kicked things off with a short prayer and said a few words about what special and dedicated people our military heroes are, and before long they were ready to do the honors. Someone announced that in this part of the program there would be rifles firing and warned that "they will be loud." When M told me that "loud" turned out to be an understatement, I felt a little less miffed about not being there. Here's a picture of the firing team doing its part:

Then a bugler played "Taps," and M says it was perfect, that you could tell he'd had a lot of practice.

The final military honor was the folding of the flag that was on top of Grandpa's casket. Three soldiers folded it into a tight triangle, and then the senior one, a 2nd lieutenant, presented it to Grandpa's widow, my step-Grandma Teresa, along with three shell casings from the rifles:

Then it was Mike's turn to honor his dad. He said it almost felt like being back in a classroom, though he still prefers retirement. I wish I could have heard the real thing. But if it was anything like the rehearsals he ran past me in the days leading up to it, I think Grandpa would have been pleased.

Here are M's "students" taking it all in:

And here are his remarks in their entirety:


Some years ago Daddy and I were talking about his wish to be buried in this cemetery and for me to give a eulogy. Nothing elaborate, he said—just get up and say a few nice things about him. I told him I’d make some up.

At the time I was reading a war novel called Gardens of Stone, by Nicholas Proffitt. Much of it’s about the most famous national cemetery—Arlington—and “The Old Guard,” the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which stands vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns and also provides honor details for the burials there.

The book is set at the height of the Vietnam War, a time when the cemetery business was booming—much like it is again today.

You also need to realize that soldiers and Marines and other members of the armed forces tend to have a sense of humor that most civilians might think of as a bit grim. This is true especially in times of war or in hazardous training situations, when sudden death is a real possibility.

So near the outset of the story, an honor platoon has accompanied a casket to its grave site and the members are standing at attention, waiting for the service to get over with, and it’s droning on and on, and they’re all getting bored and impatient.

And eventually, in low, almost inaudible voices, several of the soldiers begin, one at a time, to recite the lines of a short verse that turns out to be quite irreverent.

Well, I told this verse to my dad—and he absolutely cracked up! He said, “I want you to use that in your eulogy.” I said, “No, you don’t!” And he said, “Yes, I do! I’m serious. It’ll be perfect.”

So I promised him that I would do it. And since this is an old warrior we’re here to honor, and since I’m a man of my word, here it comes.

(Any of you who think you might be offended can cover your ears.)

Ashes to ashes . . .
And dust to dust . . .
Let’s bury this bastard and get on the bus!

(Pat top of casket.) There. Are you happy?

This talk is mainly about healing—the psychological kind, not the physical. My relationship with my dad hasn’t always been a bed of roses.

From the time I was three, when he came home from the war, until I was 12 or 13, I was terrified of this man. He seemed like such a mean and angry person, very quick to lash out at people at the least provocation. Not surprisingly I tried to avoid him as much as I could.

During my late teens, when I was too big to hit and could outrun him anyway, I wasn’t really scared of him anymore. But I still didn’t like him very much.

It took me many years after that to start to understand why he might have had such a hair trigger. What really clinched it was that in 1998 I saw a movie called Saving Private Ryan. It was about the war in Europe, and though I’d seen lots of others—including To Hell and Back, about Audie Murphy and Daddy’s beloved 3rd Infantry Division, Saving Private Ryan was the real eye-opener, because it didn’t sugar-coat anything. I realized in the starkest of terms what he and his comrades had been through.

I began to think that maybe it wasn’t so much me—or Daddy’s other “targets of opportunity”—that he was mad at.

I started to see him as someone who had probably been depressed and who might have had some PTSD from his European vacation—and maybe a little survivor’s guilt as well.

And I know from conversations with him that as recently as a few years ago, he was still having nightmares about the war. He said that in one dream he was ducking for cover from incoming fire and woke up on the floor.

It would have been helpful for me—for all of us—to have understood this back in the day.

Eventually, as we got older, about the time I headed into middle age and he headed out of it, Daddy began to mellow out a good bit, and we started to develop a better connection. I am so glad that we both lived long enough for us to enjoy it for a few decades.

The summer of 1980—even before my Private Ryan “Aha!” moment—was a real turning point for our relationship. That’s when Bonnie and I visited him and Teresa in Honduras. I felt totally relaxed around him for an entire week, and we all had a great time.

It wasn’t until about a week before his death, however, that I told him for the first time, directly to his face, that I loved him. And he replied (for the first time I can remember) that he loved me, too. And I thought—wow! That didn’t hurt a bit.

I wish now that it hadn’t taken me that long to work up the nerve to tell him. I guess I was waiting for him to go first. And he must have been waiting for me.

A few days later I said it again. But by then I’m not sure if he understood.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that he heard us in his hospice room a week ago yesterday, encouraging him to hold on until after midnight—so he could leave on Mom’s birthday, just as she’d left on his! (And I’m sorry it was your birthday, too, April. Thanks for taking one for the team!)

That might have been the only time during Daddy’s final illness that he did as he was told without giving us attitude!

I’ve brought a little something for show-and-tell:

(Take Scotch bottle from paper bag and hold it up.)

I’m probably more into the Boyds’ Celtic heritage than Daddy was. And I know that his booze of choice was Canadian whiskey. But I’d be willing to bet that he never turned down a wee dram of good Scotch.

I got this bottle of Dewar’s White Label, not because it’s great Scotch (though it is pretty decent). I got it mainly because the drum major on the label reminds me of my dad.

(By the way, Jeannie and Jenny, who located this bottle for me, tell me that Dewar’s went to a new label this year without the drum major, so I’m glad they were able to find it.)

As most of you know, Daddy was drum major of the Plant High School Band and a few years later the first drum major of the U.S. Army Ground Forces Band (which is now the Army Field Band)—two of his proudest achievements.

I was very impressed by this, too, and grew up loving military bands and march music. And I remain an Army Field Band groupie to this day.

One of my favorite memories of Daddy is of the several days we spent together in 1998 at Ft. Meade, Maryland, at the Army Field Band Retiree & Alumni Association’s summer reunion.

We got to sit in on a band rehearsal listening to some great music, enjoy a picnic with some of his old band-mates he hadn’t seen in 50 years—and meet a lot of the newer “old-timers,” and then go to a party at the home of one of them.

We also drove around the area and located a house and an apartment where we’d lived in the late 1940s. And I remember thinking (though I didn’t share this thought with him) how much happier I was to be there in 1998 than I had been a half-century before.

(Hold up Scotch bottle.)

But back to this bottle of Scotch. It does serve one other purpose: My plan is at some point to go out and pour it on Daddy’s grave . . . Of course, he didn’t raise no dummy. First I’m gonna filter it through my kidneys.

I want to close with a piece of music that’s a favorite of mine. And as you listen to it, I’d like for you to think about the good times that you’ve had with my dad and things that you liked and admired about him—and I hope there are lots of each to think about.

And if a bad time should pop into your head, and if  you think that it was largely his fault (as it may well have been), I’d like you to try to forgive him for it and then please don’t think about it anymore. Let it go.

And if you think you were at fault, I’d like you to please forgive yourself and then let it go. Because I know he’s already forgiven you.

While the song is playing, if you’d like to come up and tell him goodbye one last time, feel free to do that, too.

(Play “Auld Lang Syne.”)


*       *       *

[Buddy's suggestion: Instead of playing the song now, read the rest of the post. Then come back to the link and open the file in whatever music program you use. And then move up to the first picture. When you click on that, it should open a slideshow of all 32 pictures. By pausing at each one for about 12 musical beats, you should reach the end of the song and the slideshow at roughly the same time. But don't get too obsessed with counting. Just enjoy the pictures and the music!]

After the service, most of the group drove to Papa Joe's, a restaurant in the nearby town of Webster, for a long lunch and decompression session. A few stayed long enough to drive back up to the cemetery at four o'clock, to visit Grandpa's grave. It's pretty far back from where the service was held, but they found it with no difficulty. Here it is, covered with the yellow flowers that had earlier flanked the casket:

We'd like to note that Grandpa George isn't the first one of his family to be buried at the Florida National Cemetery. The older of his two younger brothers, Robert F. Boyd Sr., is also there.

Next, a word of thanks to Cousin Carl for providing pictures of the service. Thanks, too, to Carl, Marcos, Fred, Jeff, and M's brother George for serving as pallbearers.

One final item: As mentioned in the eulogy, Grandpa was proud to have been a member of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. There's a granite monument in the cemetery honoring all the veterans of that division. When it was dedicated on Veterans Day of 2001 by Outpost 2 of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, Grandpa, Teresa, and Mike attended the ceremony.


sherrijj said...

Thanks once again Buddy for a touching post. Also thanks to Carl for the beautiful pictures. I especially like the close-ups of the flag being folded. They look professional! Buddy, so sorry you weren't able to join us, but I'm glad M filled you in on all the details!
Cousin Sherri

Anonymous said...

Great presentation and wonderful sentiments. You're a good man Mike.

Cousin Carl

TGSJ said...


Thankyou for the outstanding post honoring M’s father.

I’m glad you included M’s entire eulogy which was extremely touching and well-done.
The cemetery is a beautiful place and, of course, the military honors an impressive tribute to your “Grandpa’s” esteemed service.

You and M take care of each other. You’ve been through some rough times!

Peace and good wishes to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog, Buddy. So sorry you couldn't have been there, but you would not have liked the rifle shots, I'm sure. Other than that, though, you would have been a nice addition to the family represented. Thanks, too, for printing the eulogy and all of the pictures. Though a sad occasion, it is a very thorough remembrance of your Grandpa George. (It is also a reminder to me to be aware of my posture and stand up straight.) I love the post.
Auntie Julia

cleemckenzie said...

I got your email a long time ago and then things went about as wrong as things can go in the cyber world, so I couldn't get online to offer condolences and read your beautiful tribute. Then there was all the catching up once I got things back up and working.

You've given your grandfather a wonderful farewell. Thanks for inviting me to read the story and see the pictures.

Hello to Buddy.