Word Count 2,051
This Memorial Day story is actually not entirely new. I wrote it as the ending/Epilogue to my first AR/AU fiction Vayamos. This has been tweaked a bit to fit in with making this piece a story that can stand on its own. Possibly so we can revisit it each Memorial Day – as I don’t think there are any stories tagged with this holiday.
The idea for a Memorial Day story with a Military funeral came as I witnessed several recently in my family. My Uncle was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and if you’ve never witnessed one it is certainly something to behold in person.
Happy Memorial Day & Thanks for reading,
Cathie (aka Flynnie)
Just one more note: All the dates and historical information are pretty accurate. I did quite a bit of research on Memorial Day and Decoration Day as well as the Veterans Cemeteries and when they came into existence. Many of the practices and observances were not fully announced by the US Government. Just as an example: Memorial Day was not an official US Holiday until 1971. Although they had been observing it for over one hundred years.
When death drops by, it is never convenient. So scary to think about, but when it’s your time to go, it’s your time.
One cannot debate the what if’s. What if I had been there? What if my husband had just missed that train? What if my son hadn’t run into the street for that ball? What if I had been there when my father died? What if that tree hadn’t fallen down in my grandmother’s bedroom when she was sleeping? “What if I had been there when Marley had a heart attack? I could have saved him.” But one can never go back and change time, at least not until someone invents a way to fix time from moving forward.
Marley had been like family to Johnny and Val. Especially to Johnny. Johnny and Val had many adventures along the way throughout their travels. Both knew they could always count on a few old, trusted amigos from their days on the Mexican border, Tex, Marley, and the McGuinness brothers. They often hired on as a team to do large-scale rescue operations, calling themselves ‘The Midnight Riders’.
Marley Miller, a former Major in the Union Army, originally was one of Val’s buddies and Johnny knew him well. Along with Val, Marley helped raise the young teenage Johnny Madrid until he went to war. Val met Marley working freelance jobs at the Overland Mail Stage lines and performing security guard duty for Wells Fargo.
Both older men were often hired to investigate robberies and murders of Wells Fargo employees. A bit less worn-looking than Val, although he was older by about 10 years. Marley was a stocky rough and tumble kind of guy.
Due to being in the war, Marley had a thing about getting properly fed, bathed and enough sleep, almost being obsessive about it. He gobbled large amounts of food like there was no tomorrow. But Johnny loved that about him. He was a true war hero and a man he could always look up to and be proud of.
Marley also had a talent for quietly breaking a man’s neck in a split second and had a well-known accuracy as a long-range rifle sniper. There were times when both Johnny and Val always said Marley’s particular talents came in very handy when they were in any kind of trouble.
During this time in Johnny’s life, he had collected a small family of sorts. Val, Marley, and a few other lawmen. Years ago, Val had saved the life of a Texas Ranger named Texas Walton. Seemed that something like that always made people move toward becoming fast friends. Addie and Avery McGuinness, both Deputy Marshals, earned Johnny’s trust when saving his life.
For one reason or another, all of them often gathered at the home of a San Diego Horse Rancher named Cooper Kerrighan. Cooper was a former Pinkerton agent and always surrounded himself with what he termed “helpful people.” Individuals one might go to when he needed information to track down dangerous outlaws.
One day, after Johnny was shot, Cooper’s home and family became a refuge for the tight circle of friends. It took almost two months for Johnny to completely recover. As they always did, the small circle of friends closed ranks staying on with Cooper and his family until the danger for Johnny had passed. After that incident, as the years passed, the friends all became like family, spending holidays, birthdays, and the births of Cooper’s three children were celebrated at the Ranch.
These were the men Val and Johnny trusted with their lives. They had been on many rescue missions and saved each other too many times to count. It has been said that by saving someone’s life, you then are responsible for that person. Therefore, from that moment forward, you were obligated to look after them and provide comfort and aid if they were ever in need again.
There was an old Indian proverb Johnny often liked to quote: “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave, and the people who love us.” – Dakota
So, when one of them passed on, the group pulled ranks and supported each other through their grief. Cooper took the lead in making the arrangements so Marley’s wishes for a military funeral and burial with full honors at the new Veterans cemetery could be achieved in just a few days.
Two days had elapsed since Marley’s untimely death from a heart attack. 48 hours seemed like two weeks in slow motion for Johnny and his friends. Now, they were all boarding an elite military train outfitted with special casket carrier cars. The train would take over a day due to the additional stops it made for the Government.
Lieutenant Scott Lancer had been assigned the duty and honor of shadowing the war hero’s casket to his final resting place. Scott volunteered after his service as a military escort officer. Normally, military escorts were for deceased active-duty personnel. However, Marley had been given the Medal of Honor by the President and had apparently impressed enough people in high places to be granted a military escort.
When Scott found out, he immediately volunteered to be Marley’s escort.
Funeral for a Friend
Marley had ascended to the rank of Major in the Union Army and served with distinction, accumulating the Civil War Campaign Medal, the New Market Cross of Honor, a Purple Heart, and the highest award – the Congressional Medal of Honor presented by President Ulysses S. Grant.
This was a funeral with full military honors. Scott had prepared the casket with the unfolded American flag covering the top.
Once the train carrying Marley’s body stopped in San Francisco, the casket was met by six additional military representatives from the Army Honor Guard who were scheduled to also act as pallbearers.
The casket was loaded onto a horse-drawn caisson and carried from the train to the Cemetary.
All watched as Scott placed himself in position directly behind the casket. Johnny, Val, Tex, and the McGuinness brothers following all walking in a straight horizontal line, with Johnny the shortest in the middle.
When the caisson came to a halt at the cemetery, the group was met at the entrance by Murdoch, Doctor Sam Jenkins, his niece Jenkx, Aggie, Cooper and his wife, Rebecca. They had all taken the direct route to San Francisco via train. Murdoch grabbed Johnny, placing his arm firmly around his younger son, with Jenkx and Aggie on the other side as they walked to the burial site. Section 29 – the area designated for Marley’s casket.
On the way to Section 29, the group walked past rows and rows of white granite headstones – all the same size and shaped to military specifications. All the stones indicating the date of birth, death, rank, and dates of military service, along with their full names.
An old man already standing at the burial site appeared to be patiently waiting for the small group of mourners. Due to the San Francisco fog that morning, no one could make out who it was right away. Johnny was the first to recognize the man.
“Uncle Buddy?” Johnny quickly ran over and gave Uncle Buddy a fierce big bear hug. “How did you know?”
“Val sent a courier, couldn’t just sit there in tha meltin’ snow when ya all need me.” Buddy Ennis was another true friend of Val’s and Johnny’s who kept them warm one night when they both got lost in the snow. After that, the guys made sure to visit the old man at least once a year because he was yet another member of the ‘Midnight Rider’ family.
Full military honors burials always provide a bugler for ‘Taps’. Murdoch found out Marley’s family were of Irish and Scottish descent and hired two bagpipe players for the ceremony. The Honor Guard’s duty was to perform the folding of the American flag ritual over Marley’s casket and execute the 21 Gun Salute.
The scene at the cemetery was something out of a well-choreographed theatrical production. Like poetry in motion, the Honor Guard folded the American flag with crisp efficiency. Then, Scott delivered the flag to Marley’s designated family – Johnny.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service,” Scott stated the phrase every United States Veteran or active-duty military receives during a burial.
Marley had been Catholic, and a priest gave a short prayer and chat about how death was not the end. Then, he gave everyone a sermon about ‘everlasting life’ and how Marley was with the angels now.
Next came the lowering of the casket, as the bagpipe players started playing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the same time a seven-member honor guard, including Scott, fired three volleys into the air. The ritual stemming from traditional battle ceasefires where each side would clear the dead. The firing of three volleys indicates the dead were removed and properly cared for.
Once the sound of shots faded, the bugler played taps one last time. Then, each of the guests at the burial grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it down over the casket.
Johnny stood over the casket for an extra minute with Jenkx holding his hand. She had brought roses and threw some of the falling petals and a few roses on top of the casket and asked Scott if he could make sure the remaining roses went on top of the final markers.
Then she turned to Johnny, affectionately squeezed his arm, and quietly said, “Vayamos.”
Major Marlon (Marley) Miller
June 21, 1817 – May 25, 1871
Major Marlon (Marley) Miller died 26 days short of his 54th birthday and was laid to rest on what would become the first Memorial Day – Monday the 29th day of May 1871 at 11:30 am. Marley always said, “Mornings are one of my favorite parts of the day.” Like countless other men during his time, he will be remembered fondly by friends and family forever.
Almost exactly one hundred years later, in May of 1971, Memorial Day was designated as a National Holiday by the United States Government.
Marley used to love to read Mark Twain newspaper articles in the Hannibal Observer during the civil war. His favorite Twain quote was one that eventually became Johnny’s as well.
“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”- Mark Twain
Memorial Day 2021
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” and was established to honor military who died during the Civil War. Eventually, it was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the U.S. military service.
By the 20th century, various Union memorial traditions, celebrated on different days, merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the U.S. military service.
The San Francisco cemetery had started Veterans’ burials in 1850. However, the site was not officially established as a Veterans’ cemetery until 1884.
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