We had a funeral at church the other day, which is not unusual. Rodney laid his work aside and came to direct the choir. That, too, was not unusual. I sang in the choir. Now that was very unusual.
Because it was a Saturday and many faithful choir members, including my sister, had obligated to something else a few weeks before, Rodney was a bit worried about having enough people to sing “I’ll Meet You in the Morning.” Though everyone knows that I can’t sing, I can dress up in a black suit and move my lips, so I quit smack-dab in the middle of cleaning out my closet, and off I went.
The gentle, kind man, Hoyt Couch, was a friend of my daddy’s whom I wanted to honor even if it was with a tuneless voice. In addition, he was an enthusiastic supporter of this column, and that meant a lot to me. As a side note, I find it distressing that my fans keep dying, yet all my critics still are going strong.
Back to Mr. Hoyt. He was one of those salt-of-the-earth men to whom there will never be monuments erected or great tributes paid, yet America would have stumbled without them to catch her. When the flag-draped casket rolled in, my eyes swelled with tears. There is no nobler sight than that of a man swaddled in the colors of this proud country, because he has earned that right.
Mr. Hoyt fought that great war of the 1940s that determined whether evil men like Hitler and Mussolini would prevail or good would triumph. He was in the Air Force. When the war ended, having been won by brave men like Mr. Hoyt, he took a job in a Coca-Cola bottling plant, rose to management and worked there until he retired. He was a leader in his church and Masonic order and, to top it all, as kind of a man as you would ever hope to meet.
It was halfway through the first verse of the first song that the emotion of who he was hit me. Humble, noble, just. A man like my daddy and his other friends. Men who rolled up their sleeves and did whatever their families and their country needed. There was no fame or fortune in it for these simple warriors, just the satisfaction of knowing they did what they could whenever the occasion called for it.
By the time “Beluah Land” rolled away, tears rolled down my cheeks. Now, I could tell you — and rightly so — that every time a friend of Daddy’s dies, it feels like I’ve lost another tie to him, but those tears were different. It dawned on me, as I looked at that beautiful flag, that I had never stopped to really think about what those men of World War II had been through.
Imagine these country boys, who had limited means of communication, in a time when phones had party lines. They left rural homes that still were lighted by kerosene lanterns and scantly heated by fireplaces, and they went to fight in places they had never heard of, in towns with names they couldn’t pronounce.
It was different back then, something we all forget too easily. The world wasn’t connected by communication and knowledge. They left their safe havens for countries foreign and unfriendly. Daddy and Mama went for two years, separated completely by war, without speaking once. In the decades before Internet, cellphones and face-to-face Skype chats, they communicated through handwritten letters that were censored and delayed for weeks at a time. That’s tough for a young married couple.
When the military guard stood at attention at Mr. Hoyt’s casket and taps played, I put my hand over my heart and cried.
I’m so ashamed that it took me so long to truly value what these men meant to America.
Rich is the author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.