Members of the Patriot Guard clad in leather adorned with evidence of patriotism, their motorcycles' American flags waiting outside, filed one by one past the cremated remains of Major Glen Fairchild. Each paused to face his flag-draped urn before offering a slow-motion solemn salute to honor the career the 74-year-old veteran had devoted to his country in Vietnam and beyond.
His two Bronze Stars designated with "V" for valor and other awards he'd received as a soldier had initially been earned as an artillery officer who in wartime became a skilled forward observer. Ultimately, he was a battle-hardened man who would come to train special forces soldiers in the techniques of warfare, and later those in the National Guard.
More than 200 watched in reverent silence last week as the service continued for the friend and golfing buddy I knew as Glen. He'd spoken some last year to me about his years before retirement. But it also was clear how much of his military career remained deep inside to be shared only with fellow soldiers who can relate to the traumas from such experiences.
Glen's resourcefulness had allowed him to avoid death in the steamy Vietnam quagmire only to succumb to a fast-moving form of kidney cancer that arrived on the heels of overcoming the prostate version. He said he believes the cause of both diseases stemmed from sustained exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange widely used to strip vegetation from the jungles in southeast Asia.
Sad and ironic how life often has a way of yanking away hope just when so many who regain it begin planning for the coming years. And that is just how it happened with Glen.
As fortune would have it, Jeanetta, one of Glen's closest friends for many years, and I were able to visit in his home during the closing hours of his life. He also spent time on the day of his passing with some of his closest band of brothers from Vietnam and afterwards who'd traveled for their final shared salute.
As our inevitable departures go, his leaving was as acceptable as any of us can hope for. He was in his bed, surrounded by family and friends, with very little physical discomfort or distress until the final few hours. I tried to imagine how many brothers-in-arms he'd known who'd died instantly and alone in a foreign land without a moment to bid loved ones goodbye.
In our visit he'd looked in my eyes and said what a bad thing he believed waging war is and expressed hope that one day all war will be ended. Glen's heart for others was as vast as the courage he'd once summoned to face bullets and bombs.
Being from a military family and myself a veteran, I could relate to and appreciate him and his soft-spoken, friendly nature. At the same time, it was challenging to view the Major Glen of decades past through the lens of a decorated combat veteran who trained young men in the art of war. Those were chapters written and published nearly a half-century ago.
After his remains were placed with slow-motion respect onto the hearse, most followed to the columbarium inside the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield. His grown children, who today live in Springdale, Conway, Sherwood, and Seattle waited to see their father's ashes laid to rest with full military honors.
At the cemetery, the overflow crowd of his closest friends and mourners watched seven uniformed service people rapidly discharge a 21-gun salute in Glen's honor. They heard the mournful refrain of Taps and watched two other men in uniform methodically fold the flag that had covered his remains. In softly uttered tones, they presented the banner to the family in tribute from a grateful nation.
Two members of the Patriot Guard also spoke lovingly to the family in hushed voices. Each presented them with individual tributes to Glen's service.
A short drive up the hill to the large outdoor columbarium was the final stop to see the grandfather of nine who in life contributed so much to so many placed inside a square just large enough to comfortably accommodate the handsome urn. In the months before his passing, Glen had led family and some close friends to this designated square in the wall. He wanted them to know where he'd be waiting if they felt the need for a chat.
This was a most fitting niche for him. Here, he was still surrounded by many hundreds like him who had risked and sacrificed in this troubled world before returning to dust. I couldn't imagine a more appropriate setting than overlooking thousands of soldiers, many of whom he may even have trained.
Following a closing prayer, the physical life of Glen Fairchild officially drew to an end. The farewell had taken less than two hours. Those who'd paid respects climbed back into their vehicles and slowly drove out of the acres of hallowed gardens cloaked in neat rows of etched gray stones, undoubtedly reflecting upon their individual lives and inevitable mortality. That's the natural effect these sacred sendoffs have on many of those who care enough to attend them. Godspeed, Major Glen Fairchild. Thank you for your service.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 03/06/2018
Print Headline: Thanks for your service