Among The Hills of Valor

Jeanne Harris Weaver, Veteran's Society Dinner, February 27, 2014

Among the Hills of Valor

Jeanne Harris Weaver

February 27, 2014

Speech, Veteran’s Society Dinner in Cocoa Beach, FL

 

Good evening and thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight. I come from a family of many veterans, including my two sons and my husband; and my sister-in-law, Becky and her husband Mike, who are Navy Veterans and with us tonight. I would like to share a story. Perhaps you might consider it an interpretive reading. 

 

It is October 14, 2010. The sun shines brightly on the glistening grass and wet pavement from the noontime rain. As the band plays in the distant background, she stands, stoic yet demure. Her beautiful brunette hair streaming down below her black rimmed hat. She watches the Army Old Guard of Arlington National Cemetery flawlessly transfer her husband’s casket to the Old Guard Caisson. 

 

A lone Marine salutes. He is a childhood friend. The Marine Corps has given him special leave to accompany this soldier from Dover to Arlington National Cemetery.

 

The band moves forward to begin the procession. The drummer taps his drum. Diddly dum dum dum. Diddly dum dum dum. Next the Color Guard. Then the Caisson with a team of six white caisson horses and three soldiers riding erect join behind the Color Guard. A seventh caisson horse rides unharnessed. This horse symbolizes the fallen Soldier. 

 

It is silent

 

All that can be heard are the hooves of the horses and the Diddly dum dum dum, Diddly dum dum dum, Diddly dum dum dum. 

 

She moves forward. The family follows: sisters, bother, nieces, nephews, his mother and his one year old baby daughter carried by his father. Other relatives follow behind. Close to 300 others who have traveled from near and far follow in the procession at a respectable distance. Diddly dum dum dum continues the drummer. 

Quiet steps by the Old Guard carries the casket from the caisson to his final resting place in Section 60. While Amazing Grace plays in the distance, the flag is loosened, stretched out and held taut above, shading and protecting the shimmering silver colored casket.

 

The Chaplain begins the service.

 

 “As you look across this landscape you will see more than 300,000 great Americans laid to rest in this cemetery. Further up the hillside is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For almost eighty-five years, night and day, the Sentry has walked in front of that tomb guarding the remains of an unknown Soldier from WWI, WWII, The Korean War, and Vietnam War. The Sentinel marches twenty-one paces one way, twenty-one paces the other way, and then he pauses for twenty-one seconds paying honor to that Soldier. 

 

“The number twenty-one is the highest number of  honors our military has”, he says. “This Soldier had twenty-one attributes—leadership—determination to succeed—love and concern for the well being of his daughter—an infectious smile—a born leader—an explorer—humble—a person who bridges cultural gaps—affable and adventurous—authentic—determined—he operated with ease—fun and cool under pressure—faithful to family, his parents and life—inspiring—dedicated—proud of his family, country and his men—He was happy and humorous—loving—strong and courageous.

 

“And so we pay honor to this Soldier today. A Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.” 

 

This Soldier was assigned to the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division, 2nd of the 502nd Infantry Battalion. He was the Company Executive Officer.

 

The Chaplain continues—

“He wanted to lead men in combat so he raised his hand to train a struggling field artillery platoon from the First of the 320th. He trained those men up. He took them into combat and lead them into harms way. Many of those men are safe today because of his efforts in the line of duty. Above all these, his greatest attribute was his faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

 

The Chaplain continues the service by reading Psalm 144—David’s psalm for victory and he says—

 

“This Soldier went into combat with his faith in the Lord. He went without fear. He did so because he wanted to pass on to further generations freedom—the freedom our fore fathers had given us as part of the long line that continues to give us freedom.”

 

White gloved hands fold the flag with precision while in the background the Army band plays America The Beautiful.  The Chaplain says—

 

“For our Comrade in Arms, the Nation now bestows its Military Honors. In his life he honored our Nation’s flag. Now, in his death our Nation’s flag shall honor him.”

 

The flag is saluted one last time.

 

A Salute of twenty-one guns.

 

A lone Bugler in the distance, among the shining diamond white marble headstones plays Taps

 

The flag is handed to the General. She kneels quietly before his baby daughter who is sitting on her Mother’s lap, and hands the flag to her. The baby lovingly smiles.

 

The General then carries a second flag and hands it to his Mother. She returns with a third flag which she give to his Father. This flag is intended for the Soldier’s Grandfather, a Navy Veteran of WWII who sits a row behind. 

 

Dignitaries are standing to the side, far enough away to not bring attention to themselves. Far enough away to respect the solemn ceremony.

 

They now come forward, one at a time. With reverence, they kneel before each immediate family member. They take their time to say just the right words of condolence to each personally. A high ranking official and his wife are the last to kneel, and to hold the baby’s hand. 

 

His casket is saluted one final time. In the distance bag pipes play Amazing Grace

 

As the masses of guests begin their departure, the family remains to give their final goodbyes. Each person in their own way kneels, kisses the casket, says a prayer. She is the last and does not want to part. Weak with emotion, she forces her body upright. She is held by the family with love. 

 

As they depart, compatriots of the Soldier in civilian and military uniforms file by the casket one by one to give a final prayer, a final salute. A coin is placed on the casket.

 

The Soldier, my son, 1LT Todd William Weaver

 

The young woman, his wife, Emma

 

His baby daughter, 14 month old, Kiley

 

The young Marine, Captain Michael Farley

 

The Chaplain, Captain Jason K. Nobles

 

The General, Brigadier General Leslie Purser

 

The high ranking official, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen and his wife, Jane

 

The coin left on the casket, left by the former Under Secretary of Defense, Dean Popps

 

Todd was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, September 9, 2010 while leading his men on a night time maneuver. Today he rests among the rolling hills of valor of Arlington National Cemetery. In that honor, he takes his place in our history with many of our Nation’s heroes.

 

My youngest son, 1LT Todd William Weaver lived with purpose. He lived and died committed to defending this remarkable Nation and the principles that have guided our society for over two hundred years. We will always miss Todd. But, he lives in our hearts. His spirit is among us. With the grace of God, I continue to hope that I can live up to his values. 

 

One month later, our family of over thirty gathered at our home for Thanksgiving to thank God for his many blessings and for the twenty-six years we shared with Todd. A family portrait was taken. In it, one of Todd’s nephews held a photograph of his Uncle Todd. 

 

This Thanksgiving, 2014, it is estimated that over 4,900 children will go to their Thanksgiving table where a missing man’s chair, like tonight, is placed as a symbol of their fallen father or mother who gave their life for our freedoms in the War on Terror. 

 

(This speech appears in the book, Losing Todd: A Mother’s Journey and is copy written by The Muscarelle Museum of Art.)

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1LT Todd Weaver
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