As the Title suggests I am a vet, and proud of it, and proud of all those that wear the uniform of the United States of America. You name it we'll talk about it. Politics, sports and much more. However, I am also very interested in what is happening to this great country of ours, politically and socially...So SOUND OFF PRIVATE!!!

The Stars and Stripes

The Stars and Stripes
Respect Her, Defend Her, and Cherish what she stands for.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A True Honoring of A Hero-Major Scott Hagerty

It has been just one week ago today that Major Scott Hagerty was finally laid to rest. The flowers are all but gone from the funeral, the ground where he is resting has started to return to its normal shape. The Honor Guard is gone, each returning to their respective posts. The Generals and Colonels and others have returned to their duty stations to continue what they do best. The flags have all been taken down and put away, awaiting the next event for which they may be used. The rains finally came and the sun has shown once or twice since that day. There have been many accounts of the proceedings that day, from onlookers, newspapers, and even a few TV stations. But I feel urged to tell the story from a personal perspective. It has taken me this long to gather my thoughts and emotions and try to make sense of what has taken place.

The day that Daphne found out that Scott had been killed in Afghanistan brought the world to a complete stop for her. The plans and dreams that they had made just months before, were now forever on hold. Daphne was at our house that evening when she received the call from the National Guard requesting that they be able to come by and talk to her. The tears ran down her face before the phone call was even compete. I tried to console her, I told her that maybe he was just hurt bad and they needed to tell her, knowing all along that this probably was not the case. You see having grown up in a military family and having been in the military myself, I knew that when that call comes it means only one thing, someone has died. Thirty minutes later, the two officers arrived at our house. A Major and a Captain, their names we can't remember. As my daughter was not in the room at the time, I asked if it was what I thought it was. A deafening silence engulfed the room and the only thing they could do was look down. No more of an answer was necessary.

When Daphne returned to the living room, she sat down on the couch, the Major started slow and very low..."Mrs. Hagerty, it is my duty to inform you ..." This was all any of us could hear. All of us broke down. The Major continued to deliver his message, but none of us really heard anything beyond that. The Captain, a Chaplin came and knelt down on the floor next to Daphne and tried to console her, but the most important words he could tell her were to please go ahead and cry, let it out. After about thirty minutes, the Major advised us that they still had to tell Scott's parents, and asked that if possible, could we lead them to their house. I responded by telling them that I would drive Daphne there and they could follow us.

The drive to Stillwater usually is a very short drive, maybe 20 minutes or so, but that night it seemed to last forever. When we finally reached the house of Scott's parents, the car with the officers pulled up behind us and we got out. I told Daphne that I would wait outside for now, this was a time for her and Scott's parents. As they went inside and the door closed behind them my heart fell to my feet and I began to cry almost uncontrollably. It seemed like forever, but about ten minutes later the officers emerged from the house and I met them to thank them for their help, and told them that I did not envy either one of them the job that the had to do. After they left, Daphne took me inside to wait for their preacher. I will not go into the details of what happened in the house or what was said. Instead I will jump to the next day. From here on out things are really in a blur. The Army sent the CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer) from Ft Sill to meet with Daphne and Scott's parents to help them through the days to come with the paperwork and return of Scott's body.

Most of this time was spent at Scott's parents and I am not at liberty to discuss any details that took place. All I can say is that Major Wuensche deserves a medal for bravery and compassion for the things that he did for my daughter and Scott's parents. We now fast forward to Scott's body returning to Oklahoma for one last time. The day after we found out Scott was killed, I contacted, via email, the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) of Oklahoma. I didn't expect any trouble from outside groups protesting what Scott stood for, but I knew that this organization was there more to pay their respect and provide Scott with the dignity in burial that he deserved. The plane landed from Dover, Delaware around 10:05 am on the Wednesday morning, June 11. The sun was bright and a strong south wind was blowing. The PGR took their positions on the tarmac presenting a flag line for the plane, Scott, the Honor Guard and family. As the plane landed and came to a halt, we were escorted out to where they were preparing to unload Scott. After the casket was lowered and placed on a stand, Daphne and the two boys approached it. The silence was deafening. It seemed like every noise in the world stopped at that moment except for the flags rustling in the wind, and you could have heard a pin drop from downtown Stillwater. As Daphne and the boys moved aside, Scott's parents and siblings drew close to the casket to greet him home one more time. From here the casket was moved by the Honor Guard to the hearse, and from there it would take a journey to the funeral home south of the airport.

As we all loaded back up into the vehicles provided by the funeral home, I looked to our front and one of the most spectacular sites fell before my eyes. There, taking the lead in the procession to the funeral home were some 40 bikers with flags on their bikes as they split with some taking up the rear of the procession. This was the Patriot Guard Riders that I had heard about. As we headed south toward the funeral home, cars would pull over to the side of the road as usual for a funeral procession. However, something I had not seen or ever expected took place. People were getting out of their cars and placing their hands over their hearts as the hearse went by. The only way that they could have possibly known this was for a military person was by the flags on the motorcycles. It was indeed an eye watering experience. Over the next two days hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, emails and cards came wishing to offer their prayers for the families and provide whatever comfort they possibly could. Then the day of the funeral had arrived. A day that many felt would cause the pain of the first night to return for Daphne and Scott's parents.

The services were held at the Methodist Church in Stillwater, the family was brought in with transportation provided for by the funeral home. As we neared the church, another flag line had been presented by the PGR, as well as some of the people of the community. After turning around the block to position the cars for after the funeral services, we exited the vehicles and entered the church. It was one of the most breath taking moments I personally had ever seen. On the right side of the church, it was a sea of green. This section of the church had been reserved for the military, and it was completely packed. The left side was reserved for the family and it to filled up completely. I was told that there were about 1000 people that attended the services, and more that waited outside because they ran out of room. The services lasted for about an hour or so with a final tribute to Scott prepared by one of his close friends. Daphne was presented with Scott's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, along with ones for Scott's parents. Shortly thereafter, Scott started the journey to his final resting place.

As we exited the church, my eyes were fixed on Daphne and Scott's casket. It was not until I looked up did I see something that just completely knocked me to my knees. As I looked to the east, the direction by which the procession would travel, I saw an ocean of flags on the back of these beautiful bikes. Then we heard the roar of the engines from around 100 or so Patriot Guard Riders. Once everyone was placed into their respective vehicles, the procession started to move. As we headed east on 7th St, I noticed a group of construction workers standing along side the road, and a group of four or so were standing on top of a trailer holding a large flag. As the heasre went by they removed their hard hats and placed them above their hearts. Many saluted as the hearse and family car went by. The street became more and more congested along the sidewalks with more people holding flags and homemade signs. As we made the turn onto Main St heading south, a sight fell upon me that I thought would cause an accident. For as far as the eyes could see was nothing but an ocean of flags and people. Hundreds of them, and more flags than you could possibly count. They were lined up on both sides of the street, shoulder to shoulder, and four deep in some spots. Some held up flags, others waved there hand made signs, and those in any kind of uniform, and some not in uniform, presented one of the biggest and longest hand salutes I had ever seen.

The trip to the cemetery was a little over five miles, but there were people everywhere along he route. There were Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, businesses, cars that had been stopped by the funeral, and the people got out to salute the passing of the hearse and family. People were standing beside the road with tears falling down their faces, hands placed over the heart, flags being held sometimes by one, sometimes by two people at a time. As we entered the cemetery, a flag line had been formed by one of the local churches around the drive of the cemetery, as you could see the hearts in hand from each that held the flag tight in their hands. Soon we came to a stop, and exited the car to make our way to the graveside. It was a simple but fitting service. By now the Patriot Guard Riders had formed a semi-circle around the tent area, and the throngs of people made their way to the tent trying to get as close as possible.

After a military Chaplin spoke, the sound of "ATTENSHUN" rang forward from outside the tent. Ready...Fire! the double click of rifles reloading, then another... Ready, Fire...another double click of the rifles reloading, ... Ready, Fire. Order Arms. As two members of the honor guard approached the casket, they positioned themselves at each end. Slowly and delicately they lifted the flag from it and side stepped until they were clear of the casket. At this point the rest of the flag detail approached the others to assume their position. With deliberateness and honor, the flag was folded in half once, then again, and one more time. As the folding of the triangle began, each fold was creased and smoothed all the way to the end of the blue field covered with stars. As the final fold was made, the soldier holding the flag executed an about face to present the flag to the senior NCO of the detail for inspection. Each corner, every fold had to be exact before it could be presented to the next person. Finally, the flag was presented to the two star general who had been patiently standing by. With sharp and distinct movements the General made his way to Daphne and presented her the flag stating the following words, "On behalf of the president of the United States..." Daphne looked straight ahead. A second flag was also presented to Scott's mother and father.

After the graveside service was over, Daphne was approached by an individual in a vest. He looked like one of those bikers you would see on TV. Rough, stout, and weathered. The he presented her with a plaque. After the flag exchange to Daphne and Scott's parents, I immediately approached two individuals dressed in vests, bikers vests to be exact. I knew one of them was one of the individuals that I had contacted from the PGR, who went by the name of Polecat 11, alias "Roy Wells" , the other I found out was Capt'n Crunch alias "Jerry Lakey", the State Captain of the PGR. We exchanged pleasantries and talked for a few minutes. From their mouths echoed the words "it was our honor", "he gave so much", respect and dignity. This was all for Scott and Daphne. These ladies and gentlemen came from all over the state and some from outside Oklahoma to pay tribute to Scott. I was speechless. As I excused myself and returned to the tent area, I thanked them one more time for what they were doing.

As I made my way back over to where Daphne was I noticed the throngs of men in their dress greens waiting in line to offer their condolences to Scott's parents and to Daphne. It took about thirty minutes or so before the line started to dwindle down. Toward the very end of the line stood a young female soldier. What made this soldier stand out from the others is that she was in the desert camouflage BDU's used in Iraq and Afghanistan. My daughter had left her position under the tent and decided to go down the diminishing line to greet those still there. When she came to the young lady in the camo's, she found out that she had been with Scott as part of his team in Afghanistan. She had returned to the states earlier and found out about Scott while at home. She immediately caught the next plane to Oklahoma so she could attend the funeral of her former team leader. Daphne, immediately hugged the young lady and they remained this way for quite some time, crying on each others shoulders.

The next people that Daphne greeted where a man and a woman. Both dressed in bikers vests. They exchanged their pleasantries and presented Daphne with a small pin. It was from the riders of the PGR, it was a "Mission Complete" pin. Daphne stood there speechless for a second then told them, as she glanced to the heavens, that Scott would have been so proud to be honored by them and that she was deeply grateful for their appearance at his funeral, it really meant a lot to her and Scott. It wasn't long after that that the line broke up completely and we all loaded back into our vehicles and left the cemetery.

After having a wonderful lunch prepared by the people of the church that Scott and Daphne attended, my wife and I left to return to Perkins. On our way back home, we decided to stop by the cemetery one more time. As we were pulling in, we noticed a vehicle pulling out. It was Major Wuensche. We did not stop, but he waved to us as we passed. I know if we had, he would have said that he just came back by to make sure everything was in order at the cemetery. Personally, I like to think that he wanted to pay his last respects to Scott, alone and in a personal soldier to soldier fashion. As I said at the beginning, a few days have past since Scott was laid to rest. But the cards and well wishes continue to flood in. On behalf of my daughter and respectfully for Scott's parents, I want to thank everyone for their support during this last three weeks. From the scouts to Mr. Wes Watkins. From Strode Funeral Home to the brave soldiers that carried Scott to his final resting place. But in particular, I want to thank the PGR for what they do to honor our fallen hero's, and the hundreds of people that lined the streets of Stillwater. No greater show of love, respect and honor could be possible in my minds eye.