Letter: Residents honor one of its fallen soldiers

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oh wife, can you hear it? The scream of the jet bringing Steven home to you. Mother, father, do you see it? The silver eagle carrying your son to you.

Waiting. The body of Spc. Steven Fitzmorris, 26, husband, father of two, was coming home.

Two lines of mourners edged the path where the casket would be rolled from plane to waiting hearse. Next to me, my son, a Marine, stood quietly. Huddled alone, Steven's wife, children and family stood in sorrow, eyes riveted to the sky.

The orange windsock, its mouth open, twisted and turned. If only it could swallow the sorrow in the wind.

Sniffles betrayed the outer calm, and hands quickly brushed away tears.

Silence broken, mechanical screaming proclaimed the warrior was coming home. All eyes turned to see a silver eagle gliding out of the sky, carrying its silent warrior.

In the belly of that plane, the son lie silent, in darkness, whatever was left of this man they loved and held. Sobbing, the young mother knelt, embracing the toddlers who would never know their father.

Thump. Whoosh.

The silver eagle flashed by us, slowed, turned, and rolled to a stop. "Attention!" Hands flew to salute or went over hearts.

Clip. Clip. Clip. The sound of the military heartbeat as the Honor Guard marched to greet their fallen brother.

Creaks and pings — the childbirth cries of death — as doors opened and a metal-roller runway descended. Then the flag-draped casket rolled by — so small to hold all that was a man ­— his energy, his laughter.

The black mouth of the hearse waited.

How does a wife, a mother look into that and know that the blackness will soon cradle her loved one? How does a mother or father watch this silent silver tomb roll by and know that their child is within?

How could one ever reconcile the laughter, the vibrancy, the life of one so young being reduced to this silent, heavy, flag-draped thing? I would be screaming.

Then the words of an old hymn ("Be Not Afraid") drifted into my heart:

Be not afraid.

I go before you always;

Come follow me,

And I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown.

If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side, know that I am with you through it all.

Be not afraid.

I go before you always;

Come follow me,

And I will give you rest.

And then the doors closed. Somehow the family was gone and the hearse moving. Those left on the tarmac were dismissed to follow in the procession to the funeral home.

As we drove down the previously empty road leading away from the Columbia airport, we saw cars parked, flags waving in the breeze and people saluting the fallen soldier as the hearse passed their way.

Alongside the airport entrance road, a man on a mower had stopped and was paying his respects.

On Highway 63, cars, vans and trucks were parked along both sides of the highway. Signs hung out car windows; children held grandparent's hands while waving tiny flags. Families stood silently, respectfully.

Then, turning off the highway, we proceeded through Columbia. There too, lining the sidewalks, were families saluting, standing quietly and showing their children how to hold the flag.

Further on, as we passed the cancer hospital, there were men and women in wheelchairs and walkers. Sunlight glistened off the tears of one man's face as he sat in his wheelchair, waving his flag.

Arriving at Memorial Funeral Home, I noticed the little metal signs along the tree-lined lane, reading "Garden of Memories." How appropriate, I thought.

The Patriot Guard Riders stood silently while the body of Spc. Fitzmorris was carried inside. Only after the casket was inside the building did they relax their vigilance. Then, their group leader called them together. These men and women would be at the visitation and funeral on Tuesday.

For now, Spc. Steven Fitzmorris and his family would be alone with their memories, including the one created today. A memory of honor, of compassion and of shared loss.

Beverly Martin is a Fulton resident. She said she and her family attended the ceremony to pay tribute to an American soldier who gave his life for his country.


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