This week we’re supposed to be blogging about trivia.
Yeah, I’m a rebel, blah blah blah. I could—and had initially planned—to write about Hecate, a goddess among whose many attributes is trivia.
I did something on Wednesday last week. Something amazing. Life and chance circumstances dropped me in the middle of a scene that just resonated into my core in a way that I did not expect. The impact was heavy, real, and has a lasting quality. I just have to tell you about it.
You see, a friend’s friend was organizing a bunch of bikers—as in Harley riders, not bicyclists—to ride in tribute to a soldier who had died. My friend asked me if I’d like to tag along. With nothing on my schedule for that evening, I said sure.
We arrived at Northwestern High School to find the parking lot was packed. The elementary and middle schools adjacent were each nearly full up. They were holding the funerary service inside; we did not go in though it was 90+ degrees outside. We hadn’t known the deceased. However, as we waited outside with other bikers I learned about this young man who had died.
Lieutenant John M. Runkle, Jr. joined the Army and eventually served ten months in Iraq. Upon returning he attended West Point and graduated in the top ten percent of his class. He then served a tour in Afghanistan where he was killed in action at the age of 27.
When the service ended, six police cars led the motorcade. Each was from a different local township. Then came the bikers. I counted thirty ahead of us, and we were in the middle of the bunch, so lets say 60-75 bikers had turned out to escort the hearse to Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman. After the hearse came the family, followed by friends and relatives.
We took rural country roads, main roads, highways, and for a time an interstate as we passed through a handful of small towns. All along the way, people had come out of their homes and into the sweltering heat to stand at the end of their driveways, in their yards, or on sidewalks. Some held flags. Some stood at attention. Some held a salute. Some had their hands over their hearts. I saw families with babies and toddlers out there. I saw elderly folk with their oxygen tanks in tow. They had all come out like it was a parade…but this was no happy event. They had come out of respect and gratitude to witness this hero’s funeral procession.
In many places, the road was lined with American flags. One farmer had brought his combine near the road and hung flags from it as well as a sign that read: “Home of the FREE because of the BRAVE.” One town had brought their utility trucks to the head of town and lifted the bucket part (that the repairmen stand in) so that the arms were crossed and the procession drove underneath. Another town had their church bells ringing as we passed.
EVERY intersection we came too, whether it was a country road, a major intersection, or the on-ramps of the highways, there was a police car, an ambulance, a fire truck, etc. All the surrounding areas had participated and sent people to represent their community, people who stood in the heat on the road in full uniform. All of these men and women who serve their community held a pose of respect, either salute or at attention, as they held back traffic so the procession could pass unhindered. Along the way, cars in opposite lanes stopped and people got out to hold their hands over their hearts as we passed. I saw a little league game that had been paused as we passed. People in the stands stood and turned to the road in respect. The little kids on the team all held their ball caps over their hearts.
The young man who gave his life in service to his country could not possibly have known all the people who came out to view the motorcade escorting him to his final resting place. His sacrifice brought strangers out of their homes. Not in protest of war, not in opposition to whatever their beliefs about the military or politics might be. These people came because this young man from their community had given all.
As I rode with my friend, I took pictures. I took video. It was amazing. The people who came out saw us go by and they saw all their neighbors around them…but I saw all of them along the way. I had to wonder if those folks had any idea just how many people had come out. Did they know the other communities had done the same?
I didn’t know the young man who died, but the various vignettes I saw moved me so deeply that in many places I wept because of what I saw. I cried because I have sons and I felt his mother’s pain. I cried because the outpouring of support from the community was completely overwhelming. I cried because no matter what the political affiliation or opinion that these onlookers hold of this country, they understood that we ALL live here.
We ALL have the same freedoms because of the country’s brave men and women of the military.
Some days the world seems bleak and I’ve wondered if this country will be strong and great for my children and my eventual grandchildren. But not since last Wednesday. Last Wednesday I saw the strength and character of the strangers in small-town America. I saw them unite in a show of respect, honor and gratitude. I saw them gather to do the right thing for the right reason. Not just them, either. The patriotic bikers around me, too. I was never more proud of my country, my fellow Americans, and my friends for feeling it was important for them to be there and escort this young man to Rittman.
Thank you, Lt. John M. Runkle, Jr. for believing in the honor of serving in the military and for defending our American freedoms—which include the freedom to dodge an intended post topic. Thank you to the Runkle family; my condolences on your loss. Thank you to the citizens and community service-men and -women who came out to show support; you’ve all proven just how powerful Americans can be when we get behind behind something meaningful.
May we never forget that.