Promoted from the diaries by bs
I didn’t go to Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I attended another one instead. Actually, the funeral I attended was on Friday – the day before Senator Kennedy’s.
The funeral I attended was for Staff Sergeant Clayton P. Bowen, 29 of San Antonio, Texas. SSG Bowen and another soldier, Pfc. Morris L. Walker, 23 of Chapel Hill, N.C. were killed on Aug. 18 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle. SSG Bowen’s funeral was held at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
I am proud to ride motorcycles with an interesting assortment of individuals called the Patriot Guard Riders (“www.patriotguard.org”). We attend funerals to honor current and former members of United States Military. Most of us are veterans. Some still serve on active duty. Many are just caring civilians who want to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of veterans.
I happened to be listening to my IPOD while riding in SSG Bowen’s funeral procession. As we approached the National Cemetery at Ft. Sam, I heard Johnny Cash’s rendition of the Tom Petty song “I won’t back down”. You’ve probably heard the song – it goes “Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down. You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I wont back down.”
As I listened to those lyrics, I started to think about the type of service that SSG Bowen and his comrades render to our country. I started to contrast SSG Bowen’s service to that of Senator Kennedy’s.
I have never been a fan of Senator Kennedy’s politics; however it was clear that he was widely respected as a senator and legislator. Over the last several days, I have heard and read numerous stories about his illustrious career in the United States Senate. Fellow senators and pundits have lined up to offer stories and anecdotes about Senator Kennedy’s legislative skills. Senator Kennedy seemed to be singularly adept at the art of reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans in order to get “important” legislation passed. All to often, in my opinion, it lead to incrementally larger government, higher taxes, and redistribution of wealth, but politics aside, Senator Kennedy provided long and outstanding service to the country.
As I rode past the white gravestones of the Ft. Sam National Cemetery, it struck me that Senator Kennedy’s service was of a different kind than SSG Bowen’s. Senator Kennedy’s service involved suits and ties and press conferences. SSG Bowen’s service involved desert camouflage and after actions reports. Senator Kennedy took tax payer-funded congressional junkets to Europe and South America. SSG Bowen travelled to and around Afghanistan on C-130s and UH-60’s, also at the expense of the taxpayer. Senator Kennedy held power lunches in fancy restaurants and attended cocktail parties with the Washington elite. SSG Bowen ate MREs heated up on the hood of a HUMVEE while dreaming of the next opportunity he’d have to share a beer with the guys in his platoon. Senator Kennedy was born into a wealthy and privileged family and didn’t seem to have to take responsibility when he strayed off the straight and narrow. SSG Bowen was born into a middle class family and like his comrades, had to answer to the Code of Conduct and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Senator Kennedy devoted most of his long life to the senate. SSG Bowen selflessly gave his short life to his countrymen. Senator Kennedy was famous for compromising with the opposition in order to pass legislation. Just like in the song, SSG Bowen stood at the gates of hell and never backed down.
People serve in their own manner. Police, firefighters and first responders do their thing each and every day, 24/7/365. Rarely do we show them the appreciation they deserve. Volunteer poll workers, most often senior citizens, do a thankless job, but one critical to our democracy. Every day, millions of caring people volunteer their time at hospitals, rest homes, meals on wheels, churches, civic organizations, etc. Selfless service to others is one of the things that truly separates our country from so many others.
But as I watch the countless hours devoted to memorializing the service of a career politician, I can’t help but think that some of that attention and adoration might be misplaced.
SSG Bowen stood at the gates of hell and he didn’t back down. His comrades are standing there right now. As I tuck my children into bed each night, I thank God that they won’t back down either.