Saying goodbye to a patriot

A bagpiper stands in the distant grass at the cemetery near Fort Bragg, N.C., as retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Donald Crouse was laid to rest.


Full military honors.

Those three words conjure up images of men in uniform, a solitary bugler and the red, white and blue of our nation’s flag. We’ve seen some of it on TV, we’ve read about it in magazines and the newspaper.

But words cannot express what it feels like to attend a funeral where a soldier is honored by country and comrades for the services he or she has given.

I attended such a funeral Saturday, when my daughter-in-law Christine’s dad was laid to rest. On an overcast morning, warm with humid breezes of a North Carolina summer day holding onto the promise of possible rain, friends and family gathered to pay tribute to a retired soldier and a lifelong patriot.

Don served his country in Vietnam, a war that lasted too long and cost too many lives. It is a war that those of us 50 and older remember vividly. Sadly, it is often only a history lesson to our country’s young people.

They now have their own war to remember as they grow older. Afghanistan and Iraq will be their Vietnam. While it is unlikely the death count from those wars will never compare with Vietnam, it does not diminish the individual loss to families, friends and our country.

These are the thoughts that came to me as we honored Don Crouse, a veteran who received many medals and awards for his contributions, including the Bronze Star. While his war years were behind him, his love for his country and the pride he took in the 23 years he actively served never diminished.

It shone a new light on patriotism for me — the mother of a soldier. My son Chris is in his 14th year in the Army and just completed his deployment in Iraq.

While he has always served his country with commitment and honor, my only duty has been to provide him with support, love and pride.

On a warm, North Carolina morning, he and his brother-in-law, Maj. Michael Crouse, wore their dark blue dress uniforms to honor another soldier and a member of their family.

An honor guard of active duty soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg escorted the flag-draped coffin and presented a crisply folded flag to Christine’s mom, Bruni, with dignity and honor.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders who attended the visitation, led the processional through the streets of Fayetteville.

In the wet grass, a single bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” which echoed throughout the quiet cemetery. The silence was shattered by a 21-gun salute, just before the buglers played taps.

It was a sad day, made beautiful by the military tribute. The memory of it remains in my heart and mind like the last notes of the bagpipe floating into the mist.