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The longest road home

A soldier's funeral

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Cindy Wisener, Spc. Steven R. Jewell's mother, clings to the flag presented to her by the Army in honor of her son's death. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Cindy Wisener, Spc. Steven R. Jewell's mother, clings to the flag presented to her by the Army in honor of her son's death.

Start the audio slide show.

Boots on tarmac, click, stop. Click, click, stop. A pause, no sounds but that of the silent crowd. Boots on tarmac, click, click, stop.

The long, black door swings open. A rush of air in the stifling heat. There is almost a breeze. Everyone here longs for a cool touch, a breath not constricted. All but one can almost feel it. Hairs on arms stiffen; we all wait.

It seems to slide on its own from the dark car. Covered in a flag that has divided so many. But not the one underneath, to whom none of this matters.

The weight is heavy, arms sag, feet somehow lift to avoid the rude shuffle. They carry his coffin, three to a side, one behind to fold his last sheet. To this last one falls the penalty or honor of handing a tri-corner flag to a grieving wife, son, father, stepfather and mother—a mother who stares into somewhere, only to bring her gaze back to the last thing she ever wants to see.

After all the words are said and the shots fired over the fields, she breaks down over the surface of the metal casket that carries her son, only 26 years old, who died doing what he believed was best, for his son, for his country. She cries, she cries clutching that tri-cornered flag as if it would allow her to float above all this, take her back months to when he was home, safe.

The breeze has come at last. A teasing relief to all those gathered to remember Spc. Steven R. Jewell. We all shiver, cold in the 100-degree heat.

Boots on tarmac, click, stop. Click, click, stop.

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