Elaine Smith is one of our bloggers in Dublin, Texas. She captured Jesse’s final return to this county quite beautifully.
Glad for the shade a small tree, I sat on a bare spot of ground beside Highway 377 to wait and reflect on what I had seen during my walk around downtown. Flags fluttering, horses swishing their tails, people chatting, all were waiting to pay their respects to a young, fallen soldier.
The funeral procession taking United States Army specialist Jesse Wayne Dietrich to his chosen burial space beneath a large oak tree on a ranch near Gustine, Texas was due to pass through Dublin. The riding club members were ready in their bright red shirts, white gloves and holding large, American flags.
Flags also lined Patrick Street, creating an almost festive atmosphere until the grave visage of a man in uniform standing in the sun came into view—awaiting his opportunity to salute the fallen. One motorist asked me if there was going to be a parade. Taken aback, I gently informed her of the unusual event about to take place.
Having buried both my parents, WWII veterans in the DFW National Cemetery with military honors; and knowing that Jesse, a twenty year old man, not yet old enough to purchase alcohol, had been killed in combat on the other side of the world; I felt a strong sense of duty to show I cared.
From across the highway, my name was called, asking if I wanted to hold a flag. The riders had mounted their horses and one flag was remaining. My reply was yes, certainly. The flag pole, that is what it was—a wooden pole, seemed eight feet tall, and the flag unfurled to a good six feet in length. Holding it tightly, I adjusted the flag to fly behind my head and not block my view of the street. The riders took their positions appearing still, tall and reverent. I stood alone with my flag.
Suddenly someone said they saw lights. The local law enforcement was to escort the funeral procession through town. Almost too quickly, police cars and the large, white hearse sped past me, giving me only a second to send a mental message of peace to Jesse.
Then many, many motorcycles rumbled past. The Patriot Guard. Next, an almost eye shattering white, stretched limousine moved quite silently past my position. The darkened windows made it impossible to see in. But, having ridden in such a vehicle twice, I knew they could see me.
Standing still, flag flying, I felt overwhelmed.
More vehicles, with emergency lights flashing, bounced over the rail road tracks toward my position. Many mourners waved at the riders on their horses, some raised a hand of thanks to me.
Emotion was building up in my chest. I was there for them, and they knew it. Not only me, but hundreds of people were doing the same thing—for the same reason. I timidly waved back and one woman in the passenger seat of a car took a picture of me. A picture of me?
For some reason I was taken aback. But perhaps a lone woman, standing on the side of the road with a large flag streaming behind her was a sight even after seeing all the folks along Highway 377 from Mansfield to Dublin.
There were upwards of thirty vehicles in the procession, for which I was glad. The length of a funeral procession seems to be a gauge of how well liked the departed was in life. When the last police car passed by, I turned to look the way they had gone. The wind swirled, causing my flag to wrap around my head and body, blinding my view. I froze.
Standing in the daylight with red and white stripes surrounding me, something odd happened. I thought of my tough but gentle father, lying in his flag draped coffin, and how he may have tried to look out at the world of which he was no longer a part, but could not. How Jesse, a young man I never knew, was now lying under such a flag in the back of that hearse. I thought of how very sad it all was and fought the tears.
Carefully rolling the flag back up onto its pole I gathered my things and walked across the street. A Highway Patrolman was driving back into town, having reached the county line and the end of his jurisdiction, I suppose. He saluted me and I nodded in acknowledgement.
The flag was returned then I gathered my friend into a hug knowing she has a son in the military. She said hesitantly, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” My tears finally fell as I whispered, “I can’t imagine how you feel.” She held me tighter and said, “But my baby’s home safe, now…he’s home.”
Tonight, Jesse is back at the one place he considered home. May his spirit live on through his son, may the soldiers who have gone before him take him into their heavenly company. May we always remember there are those who fight and die for freedom and justice. Well done, Jesse, well done.