She was a LTJG – aka Lieutenant Junior Grade in the US Navy when they got married. She had applied to be an officer in the WAVEs after her first husband was killed in combat. They had already met, Grandfather and she, having played bridge together when her husband was still alive. Letters went from friendship to romance. And the two officers married at the chapel in the Naval Academy before he was shipped off to sea – and she to where she was to serve.
After she passed, we knew a trip to the Naval Academy would need to occur. It is where her husband’s ashes are at rest, and her instructions were to “dump mine on top of his – we spent most of our lives together, so it makes sense we spend eternity together”. So off we went – almost a year later – to add her ashes to his.
While most WAVEs, I’m sure, went back to regular life after the war, she went on to be a military wife, coordinating all the moves with the military movers, setting up house, hosting military dinners, and being the lady of the house. It only made sense that she received the honors of a military service that she was due given she never truly left the Navy – just switched roles.
We arrived today for the funeral – blue skies, sunshine, nice breeze – and were met by the funeral coordinator who arranges these ceremonies. The Naval officers (aka students at the academy) were practicing the ritual behind the wall of the Columbarium, going through the motion of walking in, folding and unfolding the flag, and saluting in unison – making sure it was perfect for what they were doing.
We were early and were told we could start right away if we wanted. The coordinator was surprised that no one had anything prepared, we had not brought our own chaplain, and we were so few. She went to her van and grabbed her Bible announcing that at least Psalms 23 needed to be read at the end. No one argued (a surprise given how anti-any-kind-of-religion that they are.).
Taps were played. The Naval officers walked in with the flag – all sharp corner turns and crisp marching – they unfolded the flag for display, refolded it after taps completed, saluted the flag, and presented it to the family. When the head officer presented it to her son, I was taken back by the fact he looked straight into his eyes when he sincerely thanked him for his mother’s service. Then one of the older officers carried their urn, then fought with getting it fit into the space. And we all chuckled.
Fifteen years ago when Grandfather passed, Grandmother decided to not waste the money on two urns – one for each of them – but to simply buy a double urn for them both. She called the chaplain who was arranging the services at that time, asked for the measurements to ensure they didn’t buy one too large for the opening, then bought the urn. The problem was they measured the outside cover not the inside, so the urn was too large. After some debate, we decided it was appropriate that he be on a starboard tack – and left it at that.
Today, that poor officer fought to get that back into the space. We finally all together commented in a chuckle that starboard seemed to be the right direction, and he made it happen. Psalms was read, memories were shared, and it was done.
The person who coordinates the funerals commented to us how she is always happy to do this for a nurse who served in the war. We all looked at each other, then her, and explained she was not a nurse but a communications officer. She fumbled and stuttered, then finally admitted that she assumes all women of her era were nurses because most were. Not her. “I have to get her rank fixed then,” and pointed to the cover which stated she was a nurse. Oops. Then she sent us around the academy to explore as we wanted.
G taught a kid one of his first years at his current school who is a third year student at the Naval Academy. He met us for lunch, then, as it happened, had several hours to take us around the school. He took us everywhere – even showing us his sailboat that he skippers for the school’s sailing team. The pride, the poise, the honesty he had when telling us about being at academy was refreshing. Both girls had an eye opening experience which is what we had hoped for.
We said our goodbyes when the time came for him to go to his next period of activities.
We all left with a heavy heart. The end of an era. Truly.
I am happy my girls got to see her get the service she deserved. I am happy they got to see this place that truly changed both grandparents lives. I am happy to spend time with someone in the midst of their own journey. Seeing his journey just starting to gain steam while marking the end of the journey for the grandparents, well, just seemed appropriate.