Dog Tags

by Mike Peters


A few years back and in honor of my father, I started wearing his dog tags on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  This tradition was started 34 years ago on a West Virginia mountain overlooking meadows of clover.   August 4, 1967 was an extremely hot and humid summer day.

Many people had walked from their homes on the ridges and in the "hollers" of Jackson County, WV. Some had driven from Boone and Raleigh Counties, parked their cars and walked up the mountain on foot. There was only room for so many in the 4-wheel-drive furnished by the funeral home.  Soldiers, who had come to honor a fallen comrade, walked up the mountain in their dress blues.  I even remember a horse tied outside Coleman Cemetery on a post.

Some relatives and friends had dug the grave at no charge.  Some people had brought flowers.  Some people would bring food to my grandparent's home afterward.

Everyone would end up joining the family in a meal following the ceremony.  My grandmother, Mernia Pritt Coleman, compared it to the time that Jesus fed the multitude of five thousand with only "five loaves and two fishes."  Grandma didn't think she would have enough food to feed them all.  But when the meal was done, everyone was full and there was even some food left over.

I remember sitting next to my mother, who was dressed in the traditional black.  The only other military funeral I had seen had been four years earlier on our black and white television.  My mom's outfit was reminiscent of Jackie's.  But she didn't seem to have Mrs. Kennedy's composure.  I tried to comfort her and keep her from crying.  For you see, at 10 years of age, I was now the man of the family.  I would not cry. I would be strong for Mom.

I remember the "21-gun-salute."  The shots pierced the quiet afternoon and seemed to echo forever.  I still held my ground and did not cry.

I remember the folding of the flag, a mention of "President Johnson, on behalf of a grateful nation" and the flag coming to rest on my mother's lap--red, white, blue, stars and stripes on a background of black.  Now in my eyes, it resembles a Dali painting. I bit my lip.  My eyes still remained dry.

I remember holding my Dad's dog tags like a Rosary.  I kept reading his service number, blood type and religious affiliation.  Over and Over!  This was my solace.  This was my strength.  This would keep me from crying.

I remember a man standing over in the corner of the cemetery--alone.  He was far away from the rows of stones and flowers.  He was "spit and polish," like the others, in full military dress.  He was at attention. At his side was a trumpet minus the valves.  He put the brass instrument to his lips and blew.  That was when the "little man" lost it and tears started to flow.

Such is the power of Taps.  But still to this day, I have found solace and comfort in the wearing of my Dad's dog tags:
 

PETERS
SHELBY H.
AF15410126
T-62    A POS
BAPTIST
Thanks for listening and as my grandma Coleman used to say, "Ya'll come!"

Sincerely,

Mike Peters
npeters102@aol.com


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