Monday, May 25, 2009

Tribute

In late January 2005, I touched down in Phoenix, Arizona. Flying in from Fort Hood, Texas, the weather wasn't all that different. It was late. I found my hotel and crashed. I knew that tomorrow was going to be an emotional day.

I woke up early; probably around four. I knew I had to be on the road by 4:45. My destination was a town called Winkelman. I left Phoenix, passed through Tempe and made my way southeast through the desert. The sun was coming up over the horizon which sillouetted the mountains to the east. I made my way through the first pass in the mountains and I could see the giant saguaro cacti reaching towards the heavens. The mountains were a dark red color with a light green covering. This, due to the copper, whose mining industry dominated the region.

Winkelman, AZ was no different. With less than 5oo residents, most, if not all, made their living at the local copper mine. And, it was those folks that gathered this day. They knew that of the few folks that lived in Winkelman, today there was one less.

I arrived at the church at around 8:30. Specialist Carson Ramsey's funeral was set for 10 am. I was early so I sought out the pastor to let him know I was there. Dressed in my Class A (dress green) uniform, I found a pew in the back of the chapel to review my notes.

I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"Did you know Carson," asked the young woman behind me. I stood.

"Not well, no." I said. "He was in my battalion and I had met him a couple of times. I'm Captain Huber, I am the rear detachment commander for our unit." The girl, who was no more than 20, introduced herself as one of Carson' classmates from high school.

I made my way outside where people were beginning to arrive. The pastor found me and introduced me to his parents. It was awkward for me as I didn't have the right words and I had not really thought about what I was going to say. They thanked me for coming and turned to greet others who had come to pay their respects. In the distance I heard a low rumbling that got louder and louder. Then I saw them. In single file, the men dressed from head to toe in leather, riding their motorcycles toward the church. The first motorcycle had an American flag mounted on the rear, is colors snapping vividly in the wind.

They all parked and got in line. Each one paid their respects to their friend and co-worker and his wife. They cried openly with the Ramseys; each, it seemed, relating a quick story about Carson and offering a brief condolence. An Arizona state representative showed up to offer her sympathy and a few kind words to the Ramsey family

Inside, the chapel was full. It was standing room only. I am sure the fire marshall must have been there but he didn't say a word. Carson laid at the front of the chapel, a flag draped over his coffin. A picture of young Carson was on a stand above a beautiful wreath of flowers. The pastor opened with a prayer and a some kinds words about our fallen hero. Carson's mother sat in the front pew crying; her husband holding her tightly. I spoke briefly, noting that I did not know Carson well but I had spoken to his company commander and relayed how much Carson had grown and matured since he was in Iraq. The pastor then asked anyone who wanted to speak to come to the pulpit and say a few words. Many graced the congregation with their stories about Carson; the girl who sat next to him on the bus; his high school teacher, a family friend. The stories were all touching, powerful and theraputic for a town dealing with their loss.

Outside, everyone began the journey to Phoenix where Carson was to be buried. The motorcycle crew took off first and acted as a traffic control unit. They held traffic at red lights (I don't remember stopping at one) and guided the attendees to the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. After a short service, the honor guard from Fort Huachuca, AZ fired off the 21-gun salute before Carson was finally laid to rest. Carson's dad caught up with me after the service and thanked me for coming. It was I who should of thanked him; for he gave his most precious gift so that others could be free.

1 comment:

Nichole Skillings-Aranda said...

Hello! I came across this today by chance. I was the classmate from this story. Seem s like this was just yesterday yet so long ago at the same time. Thank you for honoring Carson with this blog.