No greater honor than this

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Kenneth Moore
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Editors note: Chaplain Moore, the author, is a reservit with the 459th Air Refueling Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Md. who is currently deployed to Southwest Asia with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

On an occasion that has become all too frequent, we gathered in the heat of the night. Anxious warriors in our own right, brothers and sisters in arms, we all gathered. Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, officers and enlisted, were compelled to come. As I looked upon the ocean of faces, I pondered what was going on in their minds. Some were stoic, while others' faces shared the pain and appeared mystified. Nervousness seemed to increase as the group, put aside any differences or concerns of their own and focused on the white vans that have pulled to the ready point of the flightline to begin the journey for our fallen warriors.

Solemnly, without a word, we made our way to the aircraft that will take our comrade to the next place on their journey home, not caring about the fact of not knowing their name or branch of service. We were only thinking they are somebody's son, daughter, spouse, brother, sister. They are our brother and our sister. In that moment, my mind and heart is filled with deep pride, to be able to honor our fallen warriors who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

While the Code of Conduct is the legal guide for the behavior of military members who are captured by hostile forces, Article I encapsulates the caliber of our fallen warriors and the sacrifice they honorably choose. It reads:
I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

I'm almost certain that none of our fallen warriors wanted to die but they lived by a code that put others before self and freedom above oppression. They were willing to give their own life so that others might live. While some may never understand the reason why we serve or how we can mourn over someone we never knew, we know that the price of liberty does not come cheap.

I am reminded of another word that is printed in my favorite book by which I live and guide my life:

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15, verses 12-13, Revised Standard Version)

Our fallen warriors were everyday men and women who may never have considered themselves heroes, but are heroes in the hearts of many. They lived and gave their lives for something in which they believed. An article in the Code of Conduct, or a passage of scripture in the good book, they were willing, they gave, and they paid the ultimate price.
While I hope we never have to lose another warrior in the fight to guard our country's way of life, I know it is inevitable. Ironically, there was a man in biblical days, from humble origins and from an everyday family. He, too, lived by a code and died for a purpose.

While He is known by many names and many people, He gave His life for all, those who knew Him and those who know Him not. He gave his life so that others might live.
The white vans arrived at the aircraft and paused between rows of comrades who want to honor their fallen warriors. The honor detail moved in unison as our commander, Brig. Gen. Stephen Wilson, called all to attention. With the command of "present arms" slowly our salute brought a wave of emotion as I, along with some others, felt a tear well up in our eyes.

Without pause, the honor detail removed each casket and carries our fallen warriors through the columns of honor. The last warrior had been placed on the aircraft now, our final salute given, but one final act remained. Realizing that there is a greater power then us all, we boarded the aircraft and bowed our heads. I rendered our prayer aloud, as others prayed quietly in their own way, to their own God. We prayed for our fallen warriors, their families, and all who mourn.

With our prayer ended, in a final act of gratitude for the sacrifice made, some exited the aircraft touching the coffin leaving an imprint of our connectedness as battlefield warriors.

No greater honor have I had then to participate in receiving and sending our fallen warriors home. No fallen warrior passes through the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing without being treated as a member of our family, on their way home. If you have not participated in a fallen warrior ceremony, I encourage you to take the opportunity to do so.