By San Antonio Rose
For our fallen heroes
And in memory of Bob Crane, George Peppard, Larry Hovis, and Ronald Reagan
May 30, 2004
Gen. Robert Hogan sighed as he looked down at Andrew Carter’s grave. His mind’s eye still pictured his friend as the young, impetuous, slightly goofy demolitions expert who had served with him in Stalag 13, so the news of his sudden death due to cancer came as a double blow. Even now, nearly a year later, Hogan found it hard to believe that Carter was gone.
Hogan gently placed the wreath of red, white, and blue flowers he’d brought for Memorial Day in front of the tombstone. The other flowers on the grave, he guessed, must have been from Madie and the kids, who’d been at the cemetery for the town’s Memorial Day service; but the Heroes wanted their own tribute to their old buddy, and Hogan had been elected to bring the flowers this time. Kinch had agreed to come up for Veteran’s Day.
Hogan murmured a farewell and turned to leave. As he did so, he spotted another lone figure of military bearing standing over a grave. He recognized the grey hair and khaki jacket at once and frowned; he would never have expected to see this man in this tiny North Dakota town. Puzzled, he crossed the cemetery and approached respectfully.
“Colonel Smith?” he asked quietly.
Col. John “Hannibal” Smith looked up. “General Hogan! What brings you here?”
“Just visiting an old friend,” Hogan replied as the two men shook hands. “You?”
“Visiting a new friend.”
Hogan glanced down at the small headstone and saw that the years read “1975-2003.” “Iraq?” he guessed.
“Didn’t know you’d been in theater.”
Hannibal winked and handed Hogan a cigar. “I wasn’t—officially.”
Hogan smiled knowingly and lit Hannibal’s cigar. “I see.”
Hannibal took a few thoughtful puffs before explaining in a low voice, “We’d gone behind the lines to take out an Al Qaeda safe house. After the shooting stopped, we went through to check that the house was clear. Jim was in the next room counting the fatalities when we heard the explosion.”
Hogan nodded slowly. “Possum with a grenade.”
Hannibal nodded. “Yeah. They seem to like that trick.” He paused and sighed. “Since we ‘weren’t there,’ we couldn’t give him all the honors he deserved for being killed in action. So the team and I brought him back and served as the burying detail. Face really took it hard… Jim was like his son.”
All Hogan could do was nod grimly.
soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing;
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord.
Hannibal looked around the cemetery, tiny American flags poking up from the ground like so many wildflowers. “Y’know, Papa Bear, sometimes I wonder why little out-of-the-way places like Bullfrog raise up so many heroes.”
“Small town America,” Hogan shrugged, as if that explained everything. “Of course, the lessons the boys here learn from the tribal elders don’t hurt….”
Hannibal smiled wryly. Like any student of military history, he knew the stories from World War II about the grandfathers of today’s tribal elders arming themselves with whatever weapons they could find and reporting to Army recruiting offices with every intention of defending their country. He also knew how many of these Sioux leaders saw combat on both fronts during WWII, Korea, and even Vietnam.
“Still, most small towns still place a lot of emphasis on traditional values—especially doing one’s duty to God and country,” Hogan continued after a few thoughtful puffs on his cigar.
“And I guess the kids are still willing to listen to men like CWO Carter,” Hannibal added, looking toward the grave from which Hogan had come.
Hogan nodded slowly. “A good-hearted man, he was… told kids the truth—or as much as he was able. Dunno if he mentioned the nightmares… but maybe he didn’t have any.”
Hannibal shook his head at that bit of wishful thinking. “We all have nightmares, General. It’s just that men like Jim and Carter are free from them now.”
bleeding, no more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the Mansions of the Lord.
The two former POWs smoked in silence for a while, neither eager to leave but both unsure of what to say next. Thus, they were still standing there several minutes later when another lone figure entered the cemetery. The young man in desert fatigues seemed not to notice the two older men; focused on his goal, he marched up to another, fairly fresh grave on the next row and knelt to place a bouquet of flowers near the headstone. The Marine bowed his head in silence for a moment, then seemed to whisper a greeting to his fallen comrade. Hannibal and Hogan caught only a fragment of his quiet monologue:
“We’re looking after Julie, so you don’t have to worry about her. She and the baby will be fine—me and the boys will see to that. And your folks did take it hard, but… well, you know how your mom is, and your dad’s just as strong….” His voice fell as he continued for a moment. Then he paused, looked at the tombstone as if he were looking a man in the eye, and added, “We’re gonna win this thing, Matt. I swear.”
With that, the young Marine stood, saluted, and left. He never saw his superiors return his salute.
“Our boys,” Hogan finally managed to say once the Jeep pulled away.
“Yep,” Hannibal nodded, his eyes bright with unshed tears. “God bless ’em.”
mothers cry and no children weep,
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep,
Through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord.
A/N: “The Mansions of the Lord” was written by Randall Wallace and set to music by Nick Glennie-Smith for We Were Soldiers. The first time I heard it was at the Reagan funeral at the National Cathedral. Wallace said in an interview on The Laura Ingram Show that he wrote “The Mansions of the Lord” because he couldn’t find a traditional hymn used by the Army for memorial services; I think he captured both the spirit of our military and the hope of every Christian soldier.