By Jonathon Shearer
There I was, standing in a small church, a simple oaken casket behind me. In front of me I saw a room full of weeping individuals, the friends and family to the one whose flag I held, folded perfectly into an isosceles triangle. The white stars on the blue field, descending evenly down the front of the flag, appearing as a mirrored set of stairs in a one, three, five formation. I stood like a statue, not to lose my bearing in the sea of emotions that were crashing into me, while my own were being shaken, trying to escape from within my soul.
My team had left the building to prepare for the playing of taps, and the three volleys which followed, to give a final salute to the man laying behind me. The bugle sounded, the slow tune filling the room with its sorrowful melody. Then the first volley was heard, a thundering noise which echoed in the tiny room. Weeping turned into wailing. Another volley, the wailing grew even louder. My emotions thrashed within, tempting me to shed a single tear. But I could not, I needed to fulfill my duty.
Then the third volley sounded, I knew what I had to do. With precise movements, I marched slowly over to the next of kin, the daughter of the man whose flag I held. I kneeled in front of her chair, looked her in the eyes, and offered the flag. With soft words, I said, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” I had repeated these words multiple times, over and over in my head getting ready for this exact moment. But nothing could have prepared me for what I felt saying those words for real. After they left my lips, I rose, saluted the flag, and then marched out of the church room, the sobbing slowly becoming nothing more than background noise as I moved farther away. The emotions I had kept at bay finally spilled out.
I had not realized the true meaning of this uniform until I had to put it into the ground. It represents the sacrifice of those who wear it and have worn it. It represents us as a whole, not as individuals. It represents the entire Air Force and the decisions of hundreds of thousands of its members, who are willing to put their lives on the line. This is the true meaning of the uniform I wear.