For A Hero

The first thing that hits you are the flags.

Midwestern towns don't have suburbs. You'll be driving past corn fields, sometimes beans or wheat, then *click* just like that you are in a town. Today, the second you enter the town, there are the flags. From tiny ones to a mammoth one flying from the extended boom of the fire company's ladder truck, they are everywhere. Some people have planted rows of small flags on the edge of the lots, others are on poles. Some have flags hanging from buildings. There are dozens of hand lettered signs,too.

Turning North, the flags become even more numerous. One Church has so many large flags out front it's hard to see the building itself. A bit further along, though is the church where you need to go. You can tell by the ranks of white cars lined up. More flags there. Parking is difficult unless you go down a side street.

The long walkway to the doors of the church have ranks of men and women positioned almost shoulder to shoulder. Each has a flag, snapping in the brisk wind. These people wear leathers, most have designs on the back. Patriot Guard Riders or Legion Riders the lettering says. You pause, almost afraid to walk that gauntlet, it seems almost sacrilegious. But they wave you in and you walk past calling your thanks to them for what they are doing, what they are standing for. You can't say it to each one, your voice keeps choking.

You enter and a woman asks you to sign the register. She tells you there is no more room on the main floor, you'll have to climb to the balcony. You notice the long, flag-draped shape on a sort of a wheeled cart. You look at poster boards filled with pictures. Then you climb the steps and find one of the few remaining seats.

You stand when they ask you to, you sit when requested. You answer the responsive readings, helping the lady next to you decipher the Green Book since she is obviously unfamiliar with the Lutheran services. You sing, and you sing your very best to try to honor the occasion. Then it's over and it's time to join the procession.

This time it's the people that you notice. The flags are still there, of course. In fact, they have multiplied, because people are holding more of them. In fact, they are almost a continuous line, sometimes a few in a group, sometimes many ranks deep. Many, if not most, hold flags. They range in age from babies to stooped, old people. They line the entire route of the procession. Surely some have come from other places, this place isn't that big, is it? One person holding a sign say "Thank you Ben", makes your eyes burn.

Then the long, long line of cars reaches the cool, green shady place. It's obviously old for the trees are mature. It's a very pretty place, on a nice rolling piece of ground that slopes down toward a small valley. You park where they point and get out and join the throng. After a while, the flag-draped shape emerges from the car, borne by young men with studied stiff-lipped seriousness. Some words, seven rifles fire three times each, then the lost and lonely sounding bugle.

Then it's over, and you drive home.

His name is SPC. Benjamin James Slaven and he was 22 years old.

© Gaius Arbo, 2006. All rights reserved.

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20 Responses to For A Hero

  1. Thank you for sharing this Gaius.

  2. Gaius says:

    It was a hard one to write.

  3. Bob Owens says:

    Gaius, that gave me chills.

  4. Gaius says:

    It was a difficult day. But the raw patriotism I witnessed today was awe inspiring.

  5. Old Soldier says:

    That kind of honor was earned by valor. Valor that few can understand. Valor that some refuse to recognize. Valor that some demean. Nonetheless, it is that kind of unselfish valor that keeps America free.

    The mental picture of a valorious hero being honored brings tears to my eyes. How can people not be appreciative of these sacrificing heroes? Thank you for sharing. May God bless every one of our valorious heroes.

  6. Retired Spy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This is really what America and patriotism are personal sacrifice is all about, isn’t it.

    May God hold this young man ever so lovingly in his eternal care.

    God Bless America and its patriots.

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  9. BubbaB says:

    Wow, Gaius, I am in awe. God bless our troops.

    I heard a quote one time that said the greatest indicator of a civilized society was the way they treat their most defenseless and honor their fallen. At least this society still has “honoring our fallen” going for it.

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  11. dc says:

    < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> < !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> I first put on the Uniform at 17. I wore it still at 22. I wore it until I reached 37, I went home and wore it no more. I wish SPC Slaven had the same long career. We need him and those like him. The world is an emptier place without the Heroes who make all of this possible. I don't feel worthy. God Bless this young man, his peers, and his loved ones!

  12. Meatnie says:

    Thank you for that tribute! Would that all our troops, alive, wounded and dead would know that kind of love, honor and support from those whom they keep free!

  13. Judy Huenink says:

    Ben’s Grandmother sent me the link to this blog and I wanted to thank you for attending the funeral of my son SPC Benjamin James Slaven, and for writing this wonderful tribute. My family and I appreciate everything everyone has done to honor my son’s memory. He was such a wonderful young man who was loved by so many people. He was very proud to serve his Country, and so dedicated. I am very proud to be his mother, and proud of his service to our Country. Thank you again from a very appreciative mother.

  14. Gaius says:

    Mrs. Huenink,

    It was an honor to have attended, I did so both as a representative for my son and as someone who cares deeply about all of the men and women who serve.

    The article has been accepted for publication in the American Legion magazine with the honorarium for publication going to the Ben Slaven memorial fund. All proceeds from any future publication will also go to that fund.

    May God give you strength and peace.

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  18. Joelle says:

    You did such a wonderful job describing that day. I was there, Ben was a friend, well more then a friend of mine. That took me back to that day, and pulled on my heart stings. Thanks for that. I also thank those who support their troops.

  19. Gaius says:

    Thank you, Joelle.

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