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'Standing post at Arlington ...'
May 23, 2013
Taps bled into the setting gray haze as the duty non- commissioned officer called out, “Guard mount! Guard mount! Settle down,” the NCO commanded. “Get on line. Aliganga?”
“Fitzgibbon? Fitzgibbon? Anyone seen Fitzgibbon?”
“Yes sir,” Arthur answered, “His son arrived today.”
“Where is the supernumerary?” “Here sir,” Eckfield replied.
The Guard Officer read the special orders reminding everyone to- morrow was Memorial Day.
The excitement of the next day’s events filled the air. Troops were on footlockers shining brass and putting final touches on dress uniforms.
“Hey Aliganga, you think there will be a big crowd?” Arthur asked as he bounced a cotton rag off his boot.
“I remember my grandfather bringing me on Armistice Day and the whole town turned out,” Sergeant Aliganga answered.
“Seems not as many come as used to. I reckon most have just plain forgotten about us,” Arthur said as he dabbed a little more polish.
The radiating sun had invited a Carolina-blue sky for the event. It was a perfect spring day in Virginia. In the distance, just south of Fort Myers Chapel, military units were making their way past General Kearny’s monument.
In the parking lot just off Wilson Drive, families were making their way to the ceremony. You could feel the excitement building with reverence in the air.
It was about to begin. The weathered speakers crackled the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year’s Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Service. Please take your seats. Our program will begin in five minutes.”
“SOUND ATTENTION!” The adjutant commanded. The color guard marched to uplifting music. Politicians made their usual speeches. And as it has been in the past, people endured them.
It came time for the benediction when staffers were seen frantically using their phones. “Where is the chaplain? Has anyone seen the chaplain,” they asked.
Eckfield said to Lance Corporal Fitzgibbon, “This is serious — find Father Bliemel.”
“Look! There he is,” said a little girl sitting in a wheel chair next to her grandmother, as she pointed to the back of the seating area. All eyes turned to see a priest following his seasoned hickory cane to the platform.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise for the benediction and remain standing for the retiring of the Colors,” the announcer said.
Father Emmeran Bliemel poured out great sorrow for the fallen and their families. The power of his blessing left even combat hardened soldiers wiping tears.
“Brethren hear me. From Shiloh, to Hamburger Hill, to the Argon, and Nasiriya — they are here,” he said. “From Santiago de Cuba, to Andong, and the Rock Pile — they are here. They are all here.”
He closed his prayers with, “Heavenly Father, I pray there are no more. Dear God, let there be no more.”
In the assembly area, families reminisced while staff mingled.
Many, so moved by Father Bliemel’s prayers, wanted to thank him. But in the excitement, it appeared he had left without notice.
Upon hearing an inquiry about “the chaplain,” a young Navy lieutenant said, “Here I am,” and apologized for being late — he had been delayed by a traffic accident.
“We are looking for the priest that gave the benediction, Father Bliemel,” folks said.”
Hearing the name, the lieutenant was visibly shaken. “You must be mistaken; it could not have been Father Bliemel,” he answered.
Just then a colonel, having overheard the young chaplain’s reply, responded in only the tone a field grade officer could, “Lieutenant, I do not know why you were late, but Father Bliemel covered you. The least you can do is acknowledge and thank him.”
Now standing at parade rest, the lieutenant replied, “Sir, but you do not understand. It simply could not have been Father Emmeran Bliemel.”
“Lieutenant, stand down,” the Colonel snapped. “I heard the man speak with my own ears.”
In a cautioned tone, the young Chaplin said, “Sir, Father Bliemel died with the Bloody 10th Tennessee at the battle of Jonesboro, August 31, 1864. It could not have been him.”
Stunned by what he had just been told, the senior officer bowed his head. Someone called out, “Sir! Sir, are you all right?”
He was there, but he was not all right. He was back in Hue City and Mogadishu and Fallujah. It was sucking chest wounds, and dead children, and letters to his men’s mothers. It was the never ending stench of death in his nostrils — burning oil, and the dead animals. His past was present. As his mind retuned to the moment, he realized he too, one day, would finally be at peace. He would be home, home forever at Arlington.
In a voice that laid open years of torment, the colonel said to the lieutenant, “Son, he was here. Father Bliemel is here — they are all here. May God forgive those that put them here."
Sgt. 1st Class, Patrick James Arthur, U.S. Army, died while a prisoner of war in Korea, July 31, 1951.
Lance Cpl. James Ray Sargent, USMC, missing in action, 1968, Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. He received burial in Arlington Oct. 7, 2005.
Lance Cpl. Robert F. Eckfield Jr., USMC, 23, died Oct. 27, 2005, from an indirect fire explosion in Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr., was killed June 8, 1956, the first acknowledged American service death in the Vietnam War. Another U.S. airman murdered him as he handed out candy to orphans in Saigon.
Lance Cpl. Richard Fitzgibbon III, USMC, was Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon’s son. He was killed in combat Sept. 7, 1965, in Quang Tin, Vietnam at age 21.
Confederate Chaplain, Father Emmeran Bliemel, OSB, was the first Catholic chaplain to be killed in action in an American war. He died Aug. 31, 1864 in the battle of Jonesboro, Ga. as he was praying with a mortally wounded officer.
In response to Army Sgt. 1st Class Patrick James Arthur, a man that died in a Korean prison camp waiting for someone to come and get him, no you are not forgotten — not by everyone.
There are more than 400,000 buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
They are not forgotten, they are not gone — they are standing post at Arlington.
—Trubilla lives in Youngsville and wrote this original piece for Memorial Day, 2013.