The Folded Flag – Part 13 (final)

Fold thirteen. A beautiful triangle, white stars spattering the bright blue background. It is to remind us of our nation’s motto: “In God we trust.” It seemed a fitting representation, since Levi Habanero had certainly had a trust in God. With the flag folded completely, I stepped forward. We exchanged salutes, and the Honor Guard handed it to me. As I turned, I looked over the ranks that all stood there, and a deep sense of emptiness filled me. It was strange how the absence of one man could create such a huge gap.

Morrison had insisted on being present at the funeral and sat in a wheelchair at the end. He had only been out of ICU for a day, and had no business being out, but he would not be swayed. A pretty, young, somber-looking girl stood beside him. Her one hand was grasped in his, and in her other she held a red rose that she would later place on Pepper’s coffin. I felt my throat tighten. She was Pepper’s reason.

Fighting back the emotions that threatened to engulf me, I walked crisply over to where Pepper’s mother stood. She was dressed in black and her face was streaked with tears, but she smiled at me so sweetly when I handed her the flag. She took it, and then grabbed my hand.

“You were his best friend, Darby,” she told me.

“And he was mine,” I told her, my voice hoarse. She pressed something into my hand.

“He would want you to have this,” she said. I looked down at the chain and two metal disks in my hand. Pepper’s dog tags. I shook my head.

“I can’t take these,” I said.

“I don’t need them,” she said. “I think you do.” I hesitated for a moment, then closed my hand around them. Not caring whether it was appropriate, I leaned down and wrapped my arms around this dear, sweet woman who reminded me so much of Pepper. For a moment, we supported each other.

No one can really understand the pain of losing a military friend unless they have gone through it. There is a bond that grows so deep between people who are constantly counting on each other for their lives, that it cannot be broken: even by death. A part of me was buried with Pepper that day, and that part would remain in the grave forever. I would go on. My life would not stop, and I would not quit my career as a pararescuer. I would never be entirely the same, though. Levi Habanero had had an effect on my life that I could never really explain, and could never ever forget. But I had to move on. I was not dead, and I took it upon myself to honor Pepper’s life through my efforts.

I bought a wooden picture frame, and put in it a picture of the two of us in our uniforms. I glued Pepper’s dog tags around the edge of the frame and set it up in my apartment. I then set beside it a small, blue triangle: the first of many that would come to surround the picture, accumulating one by one every year. Levi had been one of those hidden heroes he had told me about, one of those great men that only a few will remember, but who are the men that make our country what it is. I was one of the fortunate few to have been touched by his life, but my hope was others would come to learn about him, when they noticed and asked about the folded flag.

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on May 7, 2012.

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