Standing post at Arlington
By Steve Trubilla
Taps bled into the setting gray haze as the Duty Non-commissioned Officer, Sergeant Smith, called out, “guard mount”, “guard mount”.
“Settle down”, the NCO commanded, as he read off the names on the duty roster; Aliganga,” yo”, Arthur, “here sir”, “Fitzgibbon ….. Fitzgibbon, has anyone seen Fitzgibbon”? “Yes sir”, Arthur answered, “his son arrived today”. “Where is the super numeracy”, the NCO asked? “Here sir”, Eckfield, replied. (A supernumerary is a person to replace someone that does not report for duty)
The Guard Officer, Ensign Drexler, read the Special Orders reminding everyone tomorrow is Memorial Day. After the orders were read he told the company clerk, Lance Corporal Sargent, to post them in the duty hut.
The excitement of tomorrow’s events filled the air. Troops were on foot lockers shining brass and putting final touches on their dress uniforms.
“Hey Aliganga, you think there will be a big crowd”, Arthur asked, as he bounced a cotton rag off his boot. “I remember my grandfather bringing me on Armistice Day and the whole town turned out”, Sergeant Aliganga answered. “Seems not as many come as use to. I reckon most have just plain forgotten about us”, Arthur said, as he dabbed a little more polish.
The radiating sun had invited a Carolina blue sky for the event. It was a perfect spring day in Virginia. In the distance, just south of Fort Myer’s Chapel, military units were making their way past General Kearny’s monument. In the parking lot just off Wilson Drive families were parking and making their way to the ceremony. You could feel the excitement building; reverence in the air.
It was about to begin. The weathered speakers crackled the announcement:” ladies and gentlemen welcome to this year’s Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Service. Please take your seats our program will begin in five minutes”.
“SOUND ATTENTION”, the Adjutant Commanded! The Colors marched on to uplifting martial music; it was underway.
Politicians made their usual speeches, and as it has been in the past people endured them. It came time for the benediction when staffers were seen frantically using their phones. A serious grey haired officer was heard to say, “where is the Chaplin, HAS ANYONE seen the Chaplin”?
Eckfield said to Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon,” this is serious…., find Father Bliemel”. “Look! “There he is”, said a little girl, that was sitting in a wheel chair next to her grandmother. As she pointed to the back of the seating area all eyes turned to see a priest following his seasoned hickory cane to the platform.
“Ladies and Gentlemen please rise for the benediction and remain standing for the retiring of the Colors”, the narrator announced.
Father Emmeran Bliemel revealed great sorrow for the fallen and their families. The power of his offerings left even combat hardened soldiers wiping tears. His words were more than the moment; they were eternal, penetrating, yet gentle. As he offered, “brethren hear me, from Shiloh, to Hamburger Hill, to the Argon, and Nasiriya, They are here, he said. From Santiago de Cube, to Andong, and the Rock Pile they are here, they are all here”. He closed his prayers with,” heavenly Father I pray there are no more. Lord dear God, let there be no more”.
In the assembly area families reminisced while staff mingled. Many, so moved by Father Bliemel’s prayers they wanted to thank him. Again the question, where is the Chaplin? It appeared in the excitement he had left without notice.
Upon hearing the inquiry a young Navy lieutenant answered, “here I am”, and began apologizing for being late.
He was to render the service, but had been delayed due to a traffic accident.
Someone said to the Lieutenant, “we are looking for Father Bliemel, the priest that gave the benediction”.
Hearing the name the lieutenant was viably shaken, shaken to a stammer. “You must be mistaken, it could not have been Father Bliemel”, replied the lieutenant.
Just then a Colonel, having over heard the young Chaplin’s reply, in only the tone a field grade officer could, said, “Lieutenant I do not know why you were late, But Father Bliemel covered you, the least you can do is acknowledge and thank him”.
Now standing at parade rest the lieutenant replied, “sir but you do not understand”. It simply could not have been Father Emmeran Bliemel”. “Lieutenant, stand down the Colonel snapped, I heard the man speak with my own ears”. In an equal but cautioned tone the young Chaplin answered, “Sir, Father Bliemel died with the Bloody 10th Tennessee at the battle of Jonesboro 31 August 1864”. “It could not have been him”.
Stunned by what he had just been told and feeling the power of the hallowed ground he stood upon the senior officer bowed his head and seemed very distant.
Someone called out, “Sir, Sir are you alright”?
He was there, but he was not. He was back in Hue City, and Mogadishu, and Fallujah. It was sucking chest wounds, and dead children, and letters to his men’s mothers. It was the never ending stench of death in his nostrils; burning oil, and the dead animals. His past was present. As his mind returned to the moment he realized he too one day would finally be at peace. He would be home, home forever at Arlington.
In a voice that opened years of torment the colonel said to the lieutenant, “son, he was here, Father Bliemel is here; they are all here”. “May God forgive those that put them here, because I never will”!
The players in this story are more than just characters. Their names are among the many that have given their lives to defend our county, and way of life.
The story is a rendering of how the fallen might view a ceremony for Memorial Day if they were to observe it. They are Standing Post at Arlington.
Sgt. Charles H. Smith, USMC, 31, was recorded as the first American killed on Cuban soil in the Spanish American War. He was killed in action on June 11, 1898, when his unit was taken under fire by Spanish regulars and gorillas.
Ensign Henry C. Drexler, USN, 23, lost his life aboard the USS Trenton, October 20, 1924, trying to save shipmates after the Trenton suffered a gun mount explosion. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.
Sergeant Jesse Nathanael Aliganga, USMC,21, killed by a car-bomb as he guarded the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday, August 7, 1998.
Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army, Patrick James Arthur, 31, died of malnutrition and diseases while a prisoner of war, July 31, 1951 in North Korea. His remains were returned to the United States many years later. He was buried in Arlington on May 1, 2009.
Lance Corporal James Ray Sargent, USMC, 18, missing in Action, 1968 Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. He receives burial in Arlington October 07, 2005.
Lance Corporal Robert F. Eckfield Jr., USMC, 23, died October 27, 2005, from an indirect fire explosion in Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. 35 was killed on June 8, 1956. Disputed as the first American service death in the Vietnam War. He was not killed in action. A U.S. Airman shot him as he reportedly was handing out candy to orphans in Saigon.
Lance Corporal Richard Fitzgibbon III, USMC, 22, was Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon’s son. He was tragically killed in combat on Sept. 7, 1965, in Quang Tin, Vietnam.
Confederate Chaplin, O.S.B Father Emmeran Bliemel was the first Catholic Chaplin to be killed in action in an American war. He died 31 August 1864 in the battle of Jonesboro, in Georgia as he was praying with a mortally wounded officer.
There are more than 400,000 buried in Arlington National Cemetery. They are not forgotten they are not gone; they are Standing Post at Arlington.