Silence. Sun shines, dead leaves rustle in the breeze. Two hundred firefighters stand in straight lines, flanking the driveway to the church. I’m glad I brought my trench coat, as the November day is not as warm as it looks.
The motorcycles and patrol cars have passed, a fine show of respect from our Brothers across the aisle. Limousines, a few private cars, two buses. The lines don’t waver.
Someone with an authoritative voice calls, “Atten-shun!” Backs straight, eyes forward. I watch the patent leather shoes of the firefighter across from me and suddenly wish I’d brought darker sunglasses. There’s nowhere to hide behind my customary orange lenses, and for the next few moments I want to be anywhere but here.
The Voice calls again, “Present arms!” Two hundred hands go up, more or less in unison. I hear it before I see it. The distinctive clatter of a Cummins diesel at idle. Two Cummins. Three.
The lead engine passes slowly, draped in black, warning lights spinning and blinking silently. Behind it, a second engine follows, also draped in black. Its warning lights are covered, blinking a strange purple-black. It idles past, clattering in the way that modern fire engines do, less than an arm’s length away. I’m struck by the ‘W6″ memorial decal in the cab window. Eleven years ago this very week we were mourning six firefighters instead of just one.
The hose bed has been emptied, and it now carries a flag-draped casket. Two firefighters ride the rear step, backs straight, eyes forward; protecting their Brother in the only way left to them. We hold our salutes as the rest of the motorcade passes and remain at attention until the Honor Guard and pallbearers have completed their task.
An hour later we form up again, this time in 50 rows of four. The motorcycles and buses pass, but the engines stop behind us. Slowly, silently we lead the procession past the station, past the spot where it happened, under the ladder arch, and into the cemetery. We line up behind the grave – ten separate honor guards in the front, chiefs behind them, the rest of us in the back – all to the cadence of a lone drummer.
The pallbearers escort the casket to the grave, accompanied by pipe music. Prayers are uttered, the flag is folded. The engine company lines up for their own small remembrance. My heart goes out to all of them, but especially the officer. It’s an officer’s responsibility to bring his guys home safely, but sometimes it’s simply not possible. We’re bringing him home now.
The bagpipes warm up, and I know what comes next. I stare at the neck of the chief in front of me and steel myself. ‘Amazing Grace’ on the pipes flattens me, anytime, anywhere. It’s OK. Everyone feels the same way, and no one is looking. I still wish I had my dark glasses.
The band plays one verse as a solo, one with the full band, and the final verse with one lone piper and drummer receding into the distance.
And then it’s over. “Detail DIS-MISSED.”
Over for me. It’s only beginning for the Rehoboth FD and the family of FF Ken Marshall Jr. God bless them.