|The Fallen Soldier Table, Waterfront Center, June 17, 2016, photo by J. Berta|
Friday night was our local Army Birthday Ball. It was a class act and a good time was had by all. Dawn and I get dressed up a couple of times a year and this is one of them. I must brag on her amazing dress (renttherunway.com, ladies) and how wonderful she looked. I have published over 200 blog posts and change and I think this is the first time I am including a photo of both of us. I thought this post and picture was a strong enough reason to have "an exception to policy."
|Dawn and I at the Army Ball, June 17th, photo by J. Berta.|
I was incredibly proud of how the entire community came together for this event. The Rock Island Arsenal is our local military base and is home to the headquarters to First U.S. Army and Army Sustainment Command, as well as other military organizations. It also has a factory that is a key component of our local economy. So yes, there is a clear economic incentive for folks in the local area to support this event. Yet what I saw Friay night and have witnessed my whole life is that this community is overwhelming supportive of our military. It transcends getting dressed up and attending a formal event.
And I do love these things. Considering how infrequently opportunities present themselves to get dressed up, it is a treat to do so. I had to laugh when I put on my "Evening Mess" jacket and found the bottle openers that Dawn and I received last year for the 2015 ball were in one of the pockets. It shows how often I wear that uniform.
A bit of history is in order. Formal military events have been around for a long time. The U.S. Army has been doing such events for many years, as have our other sister services. These are not everyday events. They celebrate the tradition of the Army and the ceremonies that honor the history of the U.S. Army. They are impressive to watch. Just speaking for myself, they also cause me to swallow hard when concluded, especially when "Taps" is blown.
|The Army and some state flags, including Iowa, on the stage for the ball, photo by J. Berta.|
I first became acquainted with the concept of formal military events in 2003 at Fort Dix. It was doing this time that I attended a "Dining In." This event is the first cousin of a military ball. While not a birthday event, it is still a celebration of our Army and a formal affair. Then again, when you mix Soldiers with alcohol, things can get a bit out of hand.
The evening started well and we made sure the formal aspects of the evening were completed with the somber reverence required. After that, well, let's just say, decorum was slightly compromised.
What started with dinner rolls sailing across the room, ended with the MPs closing down the club. Yes, that did happen. Now, in all fairness, where we were holding the event was in the same building as the Fort Dix Community Club, that had a bar. The patrons there were more than holding their own and that, in conjunction with our "antics," lead the local heat to say, "Party's over."
But it wasn't, off we went into town to Kelly's, a bar that, while lacking an elaborate wine list, had two overwhelming positive qualities: It was close and it was still open. I was not driving that evening and all I can say with certain is the next morning arrived all too early.
Fast-forward to Friday night. This event was far from that revelry. We left shortly after the formalities had concluded, pausing for a few final photos with friends. We'd had a great time and more than enough fun for us. We were in bed by 11:00.
These events are fun, and they should be. I think everyone should get dressed up at least a couple of times a year. Whether it is an event like this, another formal affair, a wedding, whatever. Go enjoy yourself. Like is too short not to have fun.
After all, you never know when it will all end. Suddenly, and without warning.
Which leads me back to the opening photo, the empty chair. This table is set aside to honor those who are no longer with us. Those who have fallen on the field of battle. Those for whom there will be no receiving line, no "prom" photo, no drink at the bar. For them, there is only eternal sleep. It is why these events are so different from other formal events.
Friday night, the formal portion of the event was concluded by The First Army First Sergeant reciting from memory the "Fallen Soldier" speech. He needed no script, as he was reading from his soul. Here is a transcript I found of this most moving speech (pubic domain/fair use claimed):
"PERHAPS, AS YOU ENTERED THE HALL TONIGHT, YOU NOTICED A SMALL TABLE; SET FOR ONE, WITH A HELMET, AND BOOTS, IN A PLACE OF HONOR NEAR OUR HEAD TABLE.
* THIS TABLE AND SETTING IS A REMINDER THAT ALL OF OUR COMRADES COULD NOT BE HERE WITH US TONIGHT.
* THE TABLECLOTH IS BLACK, SYMBOLIZING THE DARKNESS AND MOURNING WE FELT AS OUR BROTHERS FELL IN BATTLE.
* THE SINGLE ROSE LYING ON THE TABLE REMINDS US OF THE FAMILIES AND LOVED ONES WHO KEPT THE FAITH UNTIL THE VERY END.
* A SLICE OF LEMON IS ON THE BREAD PLATE TO REMIND US OF THEIR BITTER FATE.
* THERE IS SALT UPON THE BREAD PLATE, SYMBOLIC OF THE FAMILIES' TEARS AS THEY LEARNED OF THEIR LOVED ONES DEATH.
* THE GLASS IS INVERTED; THEY CANNOT TOAST WITH US THIS NIGHT.
* THE CHAIR IS EMPTY; THEY ARE NOT HERE.
* REMEMBER, ALL OF YOU WHO SERVED WITH THEM AND CALLED THEM COMRADE; WHO DEPENDED UPON THEIR MIGHT AND AID, AND RELIED UPON THEM, FOR SURELY THEY HAVE NOT FORSAKEN YOU. IT IS OUR HOPE THIS NIGHT, THAT WITH PRIDE AND HONOR, THEY WILL HEAR US AS WE TOAST THEIR ULTIMATE SACRIFICE TO THEIR COUNTRY'S CALL TO ARMS."
Moving words indeed.
We've been a nation at war, come this fall, 15 years. That surpasses every other conflict in our nation's history. I have to wonder how many brave daughters and sons attended similar events as Dawn and I did Friday who acknowledged with reverence the fallen table, the empty chair...and are now represented by it.
Be well my friends,
The comments in this blog post and on all posts published by me on this blog, Cedo Pontis, are mine alone. They are not meant to convey an official endorsement from any governmental agency, including the U.S. Army.