Tuesday, June 30, 2009

21 Gun Salute

Four years ago today, June 30, 2005, Stan – my Stan – was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His parents were there, fellow soldiers were there, congressmen and even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was there.

But I wasn’t there.

Between the time Stan died on June 11 until the day of his burial, I had planned and hosted a wake, I had flown to Florida for a very well-attended memorial and I had done a lot of personal grieving, as well. There was even another memorial scheduled in Las Vegas for a few weeks later. So, after a lot of soul searching, I decided that I just couldn’t get the strength together to fly to Virginia for the burial.

The main reason why I couldn’t imagine sitting through the burial was the 21-gun salute. You see, Stan had been killed in the explosion of a road-side bomb in Baghdad. He had been killed violently in an instant that I could only imagine was very loud. And I realize that the 21-gun salute is meant to be honorable. But I could only imagine that it would frightening.

Every time there’s a military burial in a film, the sound of that first blast makes everyone jump and then the choking tears start and veiled widows are led away in hysterics. At the time, I just couldn’t stand the idea of flying across the country to put myself through that.

Sometimes I regret not going. But the rational side of me remembers that it was just a ceremony - a military ceremony at that. The real remembrance and outpouring of emotion had happened with his friends at the wake and with his family and other loved ones at the memorial. Being in Virginia that day wouldn’t have changed anything. Maybe I would have felt like I’d done my duty. I certainly would have cried more. But I still wouldn’t have been able to touch him or hold him or truly say goodbye. And I still wouldn’t have even been able to see his body. I wouldn’t have even been able to bury anything with him since the Army doesn’t allow that. Can you believe that? I mean, honestly, what difference does it make?

The one thing I was able to do that day was to say goodbye to Stan publicly, on National Public Radio. A piece that was produced in Las Vegas, was aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on June 30, 2004 as part of their "Recalling a Soldier" series. Listen to it here: Recalling a Soldier: Stan Lapinski

I like to think that Stan would have been happy to have had something to do with my one and only (so far) national radio piece. And that publicly broadcasted memorial is still something that brings comfort to so many people. I still get emails from friends of friends and even strangers who have been through a loss – military or otherwise – and have been forwarded the link to the piece.

I’m glad that there’s something out there that I created that’s helped others. And Kristin and I hope that this blog is a way to continue to speak about our loss as well as hopefully be some help to others who are suffering similarly. Nobody’s grief is the same, but there are things that we do have in common. For example, nobody should have to sit through a 21-gun salute.