To The Editor:
Five days, April 14 through April 18, 2012. Five days that validated my life. SP4 Jeffrey Lee White Jr., Pacific, Mo., came home for the last time. I had the privilege of standing in the presence of a true hero.
Saturday: Standing alongside the route for SP4 White’s return procession in Pacific. It was raining, windy and cold. With the procession approaching, I stood at attention and rendered a hand salute in respect. As the vehicles passed in front of me I was reminded of all the times before when I rendered final respect in recognition of fallen heroes of our country. I was in control until the hearse passed in front of me — then I cried. My emotions overwhelmed me. I remembered all the times before in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. I was there honoring them, too, filled with guilt and questioning “why them and not me?” That question haunts all of us who were “there.”
As soon as the hearse turned to go to the funeral home, the weather rapidly changed; the sky cleared, the sun appeared and a feeling of calm came over me. The outpouring of sympathy and support I saw, and definitely felt, for Spc. White cannot adequately be described.
Wednesday: The funeral was held at the First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge. The services were a further reinforcement of what I was feeling. A spectacular procession of the Patriot Guards, the moving inspirational eulogy by the Rev. Roger Johnson wearing a Blues’ jersey, the family, the government officials and the hundreds of friends in attendance (many of whom were also wearing similar jerseys), made a terrible situation into an uplifting celebration of life for a young man whose sacrifice transcends emotional pain and suffering and memorializes a short life that exemplifies all that our country was, is and will continue to be.
After the services, the motorcade led the way, escorting Spc. White to his final resting place in Jefferson Barracks. I was later told that there were more than 600 motorcycles in the procession when it reached Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
This spectacular outpouring brought back memories of the “Miracle on the Mississippi” when the St. Louis Welcome Home Parade was held for our veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Saturday to Wednesday, five days that made me realize how lucky I am. Jeffrey White is my epiphany — I must give back each and every day for the privilege I enjoy for living where I do.
I am grateful to be a part of Franklin County, the “Heart of the Heartland.” I pledge to give back every day to this wonderful all-American community where I live. The spirit of America is alive and prospering in the heart of America.