Saturday, 12 April 2014

Morgan's Salute

It began as a calm, crisp, cool morning. The sun in the perfect blue sky was warming. There was still nearly three hours to go before Boston Fire Department Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. would be eulogized. I stood there with my fellow Honour Guard member. We both quietly absorbed the magnitude of why we had travelled here. We shook hands with Brothers from literally all corners of this continent. Some couldn't believe we'd trekked this far; we were just as bewildered at their disbelief. Among a very many things on this job, it's just what we do. We shared stories of our cities and departments but mostly we all just just scanned the thousands around us with introspection. 

I don't think about what this job could possibly bring very often at all, not until moments like these. We attend many funerals with the Honour Guard however thankfully most are our Retirees who have enjoyed a long retirement into old age. Death is a part of life, there's no escaping its inevitability. We witness a greater share than most. It's hard enough losing someone we've taken great lengths to help, save or rescue; when it's our Brethren its pain is obtuse, it's not supposed to happen. We are the "thin red line" shoulder to shoulder, nothing is supposed to penetrate us. Yet here we stand, shoulder to shoulder, on the brown grass approach of Saint Patrick Church in Watertown, Mass. 

The order to attention is bellowed. Some estimate nearly 20,000 of us are poised here. The helicopters overhead and the flags rubbing and whipping in the wind are all that break the silence. It's overcast now. The distant cadence of the bass drums and the pipes that usher them begin to close in. The order to present arms. Ladder 15 and Engine 33 idle by, both covered in black and purple bunting. The snares tap the band in as they fill every spot possible on the grassy knoll in front of us. Thousands of white gloves held up with every ounce of care and love that could be mustered, begin to shake ever so slightly. I stare across the spotless axe I hold, finding a spot on the roof of the house being renovated next to the parish. Lieutenant Walsh's Brother, holding his helmet, escorts his casket, held by Brothers in arms but Brothers nonetheless. 

Then it happened. I lost my stare. I noticed as Lieutenant Walsh's Sister caught my eye, and watched as she purposely met each each of our eyes as she slowly followed her Brother to the stairs in to the church. Something pink in the sea of blue and black caught my eye at the same time. It was Lietenant Walsh's Daughter, Morgan. It all happened so fast but I argued with myself not to move my eyes down. The family paused as the procession made its way up the path. I was drawn down. She cracked an inquiring smile as she looked at me, squinting up at the bright grey sky, saluting us all. It took all the strength I had not to drop my axe, let alone remain standing. Every ounce of breath was sucked from me. "I hate this fucking job" I thought through my clenched teeth as my face became wet. I immediately saw my daughter Molli a year older and my Son Jayke a year younger, in Morgan. I'm not sure I've ever been so humbled and heart broken in my life. Through all my challenges at work and the help I've received over the past few years, I've finally learned to let my self feel: good or bad. I've never been filled with so much despise and pride for this job all at the same time. It just plain hurts. To see a family that has lost their patriarch much too early in a tragic way is heart wrenching. 

We were all there to grieve as a brotherhood, as a team, as always. It's just what we do. Most importantly: We all gathered from across the world to show the Walsh family how much Ed meant to us and that he will not ever be forgotten. We want them to be taken aback by our attendance and show that thousands of shoulders carry the burden and loss with them. 

Children are resilient and can teach us plenty. Morgan has shown us that through pain there can be resolve.

I have been witness to many things on this job. Some bring visions when I least want or expect, most I'd like to erase. That little girl in pink, squinting up at me with her hand raised, saluting her Father, is one I will never forget nor ever want to.

Who knew thousands upon thousands would travel from near and far to salute such a great Fireman and Father when in the end, one little person's salute was all that mattered. 

Your family's strength left a mark on us all Morgan. Neither your Father's sacrifice nor that of your family, which will be forever felt, will ever be forgotten by your much larger extended Family. 

We forever salute you Morgan, and your family. 

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