GABRIEL ROY: A Marine Salute That Spoke Volumes
A Marine sergeant saluted me!
He was in full dress uniform, a row of medals on his chest, gold sergeant stripes brilliant on his arm, and pure white gloves.
It was early morning on Thursday, Dec. 14. He was standing smartly behind a box full of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery along with a half-dozen other Marines, handing out the wreaths to volunteers for placing on soldiers' headstones one at a time.
I was one of those who had come from Fayetteville, sponsored by Wilbur Bell of Your Tours Unlimited, to take part in this ceremony. I would stand in line, get a single wreath from the 5,000 donated each year by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Maine, walk through the thousands of graves of fallen soldiers, reading the headstones of brother soldiers who died, select one, lean the wreath on the stone with the red bow up, straighten the ribbon if it had been creased during its trip from Maine, then for a few moments stand at attention in front of my comrade, think of him, thank him, say a prayer, and give him a military salute.
Then I would start the walk back to the truck with such a pain deep in my heart, my eyes tearing, and repeat this ceremony again and again for a few hours until all the wreaths had been placed, and the headstones of at least one small section of Arlington showed the world that we remembered our soldiers and are forever grateful.
Then in the middle of this process, when I walked up and took the wreath from this Marine sergeant in full dress uniform, this soldier, the personification of courage and devotion to country -- this hero -- saluted me! Insignificant, white-haired 74-year-old Gabriel -- the Marine sergeant saluted me!
For a moment I was awed. Then I understood what he was telling me by that gesture. He was personally saying, "Thanks for recognizing my fellow comrades." And, "Thanks for taking the time to come and do this." And, "Thanks for being here and showing you support me." And, "Thanks for being a veteran yourself and making it possible for me to be a Marine."
That's what his salute meant to me, and that gesture will rank evermore as one of the proudest moments of my life. A Marine sergeant saluted me and recognized me as an American patriot, and I will continue to be an American patriot until I die and am buried here in Arlington National Cemetery alongside all my American brothers.
Gabriel Roy lives in Whispering Pines.
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