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Memorial Day - Part II - A Story

Memorial Day (Observed)

As a steady stream of cars go up and down the road outside, people going hither and yon for purposes only they know, it is Monday 31 May 2010 and Memorial Day (Observed). Last year I intended to write a SF short story for Memorial Day. Alas, it got bogged down in a side project of wondering how Arlington National Cemetery would look and function nine centuries from now. That needs some thought, still. So as my own modest contribution to the commemorative events of the I have written a different SF story -- this one in much smaller venue.

                       "Memorial Day-II"
                  by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

Friday 24 May 2880
Ottawa Bypass MI, USA, Nordamericano, Earth
     The Skat drove by him in a hurry, bearing four shirtless young men 
already well tanned.  They hollered some youthful expression of exuberance, 
probably thrilled to have cut school after lunch in order to start the 
three-day weekend early.  One boy turned back to stare -- surprised to 
see a man in dress black uniform walking along the side of the old road.
     Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Hoogerhyde (Ret.) didn’t mind.  
The walk westward to Placid Waters Cemetery was hot, but pleasant enough.  
At 0700 hours this morning an intense thunderstorm had crashed through 
town and he’d thought the walk would feel like he was hiking through a 
humid swamp.  But the front had brought high pale blue skies and a stiff 
dry wind, so despite the 29° temperature, he wasn’t miserable.
     By the time he reached the marker stake, he could see the boys had 
parked up on the adjoining Picnic Hill and were playing some sort of 
catch game.  Life went on and he wasn’t annoyed by their presence.  
He was, however, wondering how’d they react to the coming proceedings.
     Another uniformed figure came marching stately up the road.  
Hoogerhyde knew Master Gunnery Sergeant Leo McMasters, USFMC -- they’d 
served together on many of these details.  He noted that the gunnery 
sergeant’s listing on his data glasses no longer had the Retired tag.
     "Master Chief," the Marine nodded tersely when he arrived.
     "Master Gunny," Hoogerhyde replied.
     There was no further reason to talk until the other four arrived.  
And then when the tandem linked bubble cars arrived, the two senior NCOs 
were able to point and direct everyone to their tasks without so many 
words either.  The three enlisted personnel came from two American 
terrestrial military services to fill in.  The lone Fleet officer of 
the detail, Lieutenant (j.g.) Anne Leslie Aage, moved stiffly.  All he 
knew of her was that she’d been burned in a reactor accident somewhere 
hundreds of light years from here and had been sent home to Grand Rapids 
on Earth for rest and recuperation leave.  Still, she walked with them, 
carrying the flag stand base, as the flag and rifle lockers were lugged 
up the hill to the grave site.
     The cemetery staff had already dug the perfectly edged hole, placed 
the brass frame with the support straps, and erected the tent.  The 
electric gravetender sat silently with its load of dirt and carefully 
rolled up patch of sod.  With the arrival of the military honor guard, 
all they needed was the funeral party.
     Hoogerhyde raised the white cloth over the newly laser cut stone 
and inspected it.

                      SPC2 CECILIA GRACE STAAT
                         USFS DELFT (CCB 52)
                                 †
                    5 APRIL 2859 - 26 MARCH 2880
                     IN SCHOOL · SOCCER · SPACE
                        OUR DEAR GIRL ALWAYS
                       THOUGHT OF OTHERS FIRST

The epitaph seemed to match the report he’d gotten from the Fleet 
Chiefs Association, which was considering Staat for recognition as the 
next enlisted spaceman to be named on a Callisto frigate.
     One by one they removed the five flags from the locker -- State of 
Michigan, United States of America, Nordamericano Confederation, United 
Nations of Earth and the banner of the Unified Star Fleet -- unfurled 
them and placed them in their holders.  A farmer’s bubble truck rolled 
up and a local high school student stepped out in a perfectly pressed 
suit and carrying a brilliantly polished brass cornet.  Hoogerhyde put 
away the military music player as this young man was very good on the 
cornet.  The boy’s mother would wait quietly in the bubble truck for 
the service to end.
     A single bip! in his ear signaled the approach of the funeral party.  
The six military men and women aligned themselves on the road below 
and came to attention.  Hoogerhyde could see the four boys on Picnic 
Hill had stopped their games and were now leaning against their vehicle, 
watching.  The hearse glided to a halt directly in front of the detail, 
while a linked train of bubble cars followed with the mourners.
     With few called orders required, the six members of the funeral 
detail took possession of the casket and, with great precision, marched 
one step at a time up the hill to the grave site.  The first time 
Hoogerhyde had borne a casket, he’d been terrified that he might drop 
it.  Now he knew the wisdom of having six bearers split the load and, 
truth be told, this was not the heaviest casket he’d ever taken up the 
hill to Placid Waters.  The family had selected the familiar American 
stars and stripes to be draped on the casket, rather than the more 
stark, black Unified Star Fleet banner.
     The graveside service for Specialist 2 Cecilia Staat was short.  
The private church service had been the place for long eulogies and 
remembrances.  The flag was folded, stiffly and precisely, and handed 
to Staat’s parents by Hoogerhyde, On behalf of a grateful nation and 
people.  The young cornet player performed the Last Call, then 
Hoogerhyde piped Now Departing on a bosun’s whistle and the casket 
lowered as the master gunnery sergeant and the three enlisted men fired 
the requisite volleys into the air.  As expected, it was these sharp 
reports which caused the most visible reaction from the mourners.  
Ceremonial amounts of dirt and single flowers were tossed into the 
grave -- the cemetery’s crew would complete the covering later -- and 
the funeral was over.  All per the 2866 revision of the Manual of the 
Unified Star Fleet Funeral Service.
     After the funeral party and the young cornet player had departed, 
the master chief noted the four boys trotting down from Picnic Hill.  
He continued to help stow the flag and rifle lockers, then walked with 
the others to the tandem bubble cars.  Once stowed, the master gunnery 
sergeant began his walk back to town.
     "Excuse me, sir?" one of the boys stepped up to ask Hoogerhyde, 
after the tandem had left.
     He was immediately elbowed by one of his buddies.  "Don’t call 
him ‘sir’.  He’s got chevrons and rockers on his sleeve -- that makes 
him a chief."
     Hoogerhyde smiled.  "You seem to know something of the military."
     The second boy nodded.  "My brother serves in the Michigan National 
Guard.  He’s a corporal, chief."
     "Master chief," Hoogerhyde said, tapping the patch on his sleeve.  
"But I’ll forgive someone who knows army ranks from trying to keep track 
of the navy -- sea or space."
     "You’re Fleet, aren’t you?  Space navy?"
     "Correct.  The Unified Star Fleet."
     "And who got buried?"
     "Specialist 2 Cecilia Staat."
     The boys seemed to know of the family.  "Was she killed in the war?"
     "The interstellar war with the aliens?"
     The second boy blushed, it seemed such a crazy thing to talk about.  
They’d never found any aliens out nearly a thousand light years from 
Earth -- and then the first ones they find seemed hell-bent on killing 
humans?  Insane.  And yet very, very real.
     "No," the master chief said.  "The war started just a week ago.  
We can move information fast, but bringing casualties home?  That’ll take 
a couple of months."
     "Oh."  The first boy seemed disappointed.
     "But don’t worry.  Specialist Staat is still a hero.  She spotted 
something wrong with someone running to board her ship -- turned out the 
man was trying to get a bomb on the Delft.  She stopped him long 
enough for ship’s security to stop him permanently.  Unfortunately, her 
efforts cost Staat her life.  Space is a dangerous game.  Even without 
alien attackers."
     The boys thought about this.  Three headed back to their Skat –- 
but the one with the brother in service remained.
     "What else can I answer for you?"
     "How come not all of you were in Fleet uniforms?"
     "There’s not a need for a large Unified Star Fleet presence in West Michigan," 
Hoogerhyde said.  "And Ottawa Bypass is a pretty small town."
     "Oh... yeah."
     "The two sailors were U.S. Navy Reservists -- sea navy.  The army 
lad, like your brother, is a Michigan National Guard soldier.  Their 
service is Earthbound, not in space.  Not yet anyway.
     "As for the Fleet personnel, Lt. Aage is going in early for her 
reentrant physical.  I expect she’ll be lifting within a week.  The 
master gunnery sergeant has come out of retirement to go and serve in 
this new war.  He’ll leave in thirty days."
     "Not immediately?"
     "Fleet is vast, but there are only so many billets to fill and 
so many transports -- the pencil-neck Personnel people on the Moon 
have a lot of logistics they have to work out with so many to move 
around."
     "I see."
     "I think you do.  Look, son, I’m not a recruiter -- I’m not here 
to try to convince you to join up with Fleet or for any service.  But... 
Monday is Memorial Day Observed.  That’s the reason you’re getting 
this nice three-day holiday weekend.  All I ask is that you take a 
moment on Monday to remember all who have served in the military, on 
land, sea, air or space.  Can you do that?"
     "Yeah, master chief, I can do that."
     "Then take care, son.  And enjoy a little of this lovely day, even 
after this somber ceremony."
     "Thanks!"  Relieved to be released, perhaps, the boy ran off and 
hopped onto the back of the Skat and the four boys roared off towards 
the lake.
     And you, Master Chief, the boy hadn’t asked, are you going 
back in?
     Hoogerhyde didn’t know.  Perhaps.  Maybe.  Probably he should.  
But he’d been right to tell the boy that Fleet Personnel was flooded 
with old-timers like him begging to be let back in during the last week.  
There’d be an update from the Fleet Chiefs Association on it.
     An interstellar war with an unknown alien race who attacked Fleet 
ships without warning or challenge.  Ships were being damaged or even 
destroyed in battle.  There’d be more spacemen coming back to Earth to 
be memorialized.  Someone had to be here to stand for them.
     He imagined there’d be a couple of waves of new recruits and returning 
officers and NCOs.  It was unlikely that this war would be short -- he’d 
already heard one idiot on the viddie news suggest that it’d be over by 
Christmas.  That old misguided chestnut seemed to surface with every war 
fought over the last ten centuries.  He figured they’d be in this war 
for years.  There’d soon come a time when Fleet would be hurting for 
experienced master chiefs.  When, unfortunately, he could imagine there’d 
be more injured and recuperating come back home to help serve on these 
funeral details.
     There was a time coming when he might return to space.  But for now, 
there were still the men and women who’d already given their lives in 
service to humanity.  For now, his duty was to stand and honor them.  
And he’d  be back on Monday, planting small flags next to graves stretching 
back five-hundred years.
     He could live with that.


Dr. Phil
Tags: dr phil stories, holidays, memorium, military, science fiction
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