I cannot begin to know the pain a mother feels when her child is killed in the line of duty. My sister endured the rawest of pain waiting for both her sons to come home, one to bury, the other to lean on. It would be eight days before she could lay her son, Bobby, to rest and two days before she knew if her oldest son, Patrick, was all right. You see, both sons were serving in Iraq, just 45 minutes away from each other, when the youngest son was killed by an IED (improvised explosive devise). When a soldier is killed in Iraq they have a 72 hour black out. No calls in or out to give the military time to notify the next of kin. So Patrick couldn't call his mother to tell her he was all right because his brother was the one that was killed. It was a frustrating, heartbreaking, stressful time for his mother to say the least.
When a soldier dies in combat there are forms and more forms that the parent must sign and there are some very difficult questions that must be answered on those forms. No mother should have to be asked that. Especially when there was no warning, no cushioning before the question was read, as in my sister's case.
My sister wanted a quiet, dignified funeral, but the media had other ideas. Two out of the four local channels called requesting an interview. The other two just showed up on my sister's doorstep. My oldest sister, Marge, handled the media like an expert but 3 out of the 4 of them still got it wrong. But you know what, it didn't matter. We wanted Bobby's friends and family to know of his sacrifice and that was accomplished.
But then, as if it weren't hard enough to bury your youngest son, you are faced with protestors wanting to picket the funeral. I'm sure you've heard of them, they go to military funerals trying to spread their message. No, it's not a protest against the war, it's protesting the fact that the military has gays in the service. It had nothing to do with Bobby but that didn't matter to them as long as they got their media exposure, which of course they did. The leader of this protest tried his best to provoke conflict by tying the American flag to his foot and walking on it. That's how intelligent these so called "Baptist" lawyers are. But their little stunt didn't work, Bobby was buried a hero with full military honors and nothing anyone does can ever take that away.
Anyway, Westbrook Funeral Home notified us that the protestors were coming, so Patrick invited the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of mostly Vietnam vets, to the funeral. The vets ride motorcycles and carry flags. I admit, when it was first discussed the decision was not to invite them because my sister did not want to turn Bobby's funeral into a spectacle. But when the funeral home confirmed the protestors were coming the decision was easy to make. The leader, Pete W., said he thought maybe he could get 50 or 60 riders together but on the day of the funeral the Patriots came by the hundreds, each wanting to show their respects for a fallen soldier. My sister was so overwhelmed with pride that these people would come from miles (even states) away that she personally went out to thank them. We could not see or hear the protestors at all. No, our problem was the news media. The Rev. Bob Hall of the First Baptist Church in Beebe helped sneak (for lack of a better word) my sister over to where the Patriots were standing the closest, keeping a watchful eye out for the news media.
The Patriot Riders welcome non-military, non-motorcycle riders to join with them in insuring a patriotic and respectful service for each fallen soldier. If you have a chance, join them, stand beside them and support them in their efforts.
And as the procession made its way to the cemetery, the town of Beebe welcomed its hero home. The local police snapped to attention and saluted as the hearse drove by. The town's residents came running out of their homes and businesses, carrying flags and saluting. My sister could not speak she was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the town she loves. The funeral was befitting an American hero, complete with 21 gun salute and taps.
I will always be grateful to the town of Beebe, Rev. Bob Hall, First Baptist Church, Bobby Burns, Westbrook Funeral Home, and The Patriot Guard Riders for assuring that my nephew was buried with dignity and respect.
And to Patrick, Bobby's brother, a war veteran himself, who, praise the Lord, will not have to return to Iraq. Patrick stood tall through all of this and I am so proud of him. He is just a wonderful young man in every sense of the word.
And I am especially grateful to my sister, Bobby's mother, for her strength, faith in God and country and for raising two fine young men.
The day before Bobby's funeral his mother received notification that Spc. West had been promoted to Cpl. West. Though I will always remember him as the little boy I use to play with, Cpl. West grew up to be America's hero. Bobby say hello to your grandma and grandpa in heaven for me and your Uncle Dennis and Aunt Ann.
If you or your family are going through something like this please don't hesitate to email me if I can help. I know first hand that talking helps.
Marcella R. Wiggins
One of Bobby's Aunts