December 1, 2012
I met John at the Band of Brothers. He was a kind man and one who you could see could easily be an inspiration. He just seemed to have that sort of air about him.
He would come in early and sit and chat with all. He engaged well and listened carefully as others around him chatted. I never saw him brag or even come close to it. He was always smiling and just seemed to be comfortable.
Of course, he was special to us if anything just for his ranking. We had no line officers although many were field officers. But, I believe he would have been special anyway just because he fit in.
I recall introducing him around. As usual, he was especially honored to meet Bob Maxwell but seemed equally honored to meet the others also including officers and enlisted. He mixed well with all but seemed to link up even closer with the WW2 guys.
Today was his service. A few of the guys met up at the diner and we went down and mustered up with others a block from the church. JW (retired Master Chief) had the point and was in communication with the family. He put together a group of pallbearers of which I was a part and let Jerry (retired Colonel) lead the flag bearers.
The flag bearers lined up on the steps leading up the church. It looked very impressive and some of the family members took pictures after they left the Rosary service and waited for the Mass.
Minutes before the service, the flags broke down and Jerry led them into the church. We then lined up on the sides of the casket and began the slow march down the isle. I had never been a pallbearer before so I was a bit nervous and as we wheeled the Admiral down the isle, it seemed to drag towards my side making my arm bump into just about each pew. I guess I felt a bit awkward because of that.
We secured the casket, saluted the warrior, and then moved to our seats.
It was only my second Mass and I was taken by the traditions of the Catholic church and found myself kind of watching it all. A young alter girl did such a good job. I was also impressed that the church allowed for some special things such as reciting the lords prayer in a Naval way....The Lord is my Pilot.
I also was glad that they allowed the family to get up and say a few words about the great man. I learned things from his youth from his brother and what he was like as a father (and equally how special his wife was) from his children.
Then it was our turn to take the Admiral outside and to the waiting vehicle. Wheeling him was no problem and we moved him around the building and to the waiting hearse. As we lifted him up off the cart, it finally hit me. The weight of the casket made the fact that he was inside more......impacting. Suddenly, I was back at the last time that I saw him.
It was at the end of one of the Band of Brothers meetings. He stood to the side for a second and called me over. He shook my hand and spoke: "Lyle, I know who you are and I know what you do.". I guess I wasn't sure how to address his statement and I probably dropped my head a bit. He squeezed my hand getting my attention. I looked up to see him gazing deeply into my eyes letting me know that he wanted my attention. He waited just a second making sure that he had it and said, "Keep it up.". His smile was engaging and assuring and I returned what any man would to a Rear Admiral. "Yes Sir.", I said as he turned and left.
As I watched them secure him, that memory bounced around in my head and it hit me. His family had just lost a great father and grandfather. And...the world had just lost a good man.
Rest in Peace, Admiral.