Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sorry, we have more important business...

It must have been somewhere near 3:00 on a Wednesday afternoon. The time might be slightly off and I couldn't tell you the year but I distinctly remember it was a Wednesday when everyone in town heard and some felt the explosion. At the time I was living near a Military Ocean Terminal which was responsible for the transfer of a large percentage of ammunition and military vehicles to strategic locations around the globe. It wasn't a secret but there was never any advertisement so to speak of what went on in there. We all saw the vehicles constantly entering and leaving and to the passerby it might have seemed like a huge garage but thanks to civilian workers there was no secret as to what they did.

Supposedly, during routine maintenance to one of the ships in the port something went wrong, a fire ensued and before anyone knew what was happening an explosion took place. The local press never revealed (if they knew) what the cause was and it apparently wasn't large enough to cause any major damage to the vessel but it did manage to claim 2 lives. Both of the young men that were killed were not locals and I later found out that they were enlisted men, with families on opposite ends of the country. The first of the two was obviously killed instantly and the other jumped from the ship into the water according to someone on the dock who had been screaming to him; he resurfaced on his own 3 days later. During those 3 days the Coast Guard, the military as well as local fisherman looked for him in vain.

Whatever caused this accident, the military was taking full responsibility for their deaths and was doing whatever possible to assist the families involved at no cost to them. We were basically called upon to do what was necessary directly through the military with no contact with the families. Both families in entirety had been flown to a nearby airport and were housed in the best hotel in the area. The day of the double memorial service brought two white stretch limousines to the doors of the funeral home led by military vehicles and followed by a string of more limousines. There were high ranking officials in attendance that day as well as both families and personal attendants to them. Some of the other "employees" from the terminal were there as well. These officials spoke at the service offering their condolences to the families. At the conclusion of the service, the military had arranged to have a catered reception of sorts for all that had attended; all neatly wrapped up, they were done, time for the brass to leave. It was at this reception that I learned that until that day both families had been kept separate since their arrival yet seemed to almost become one as they discussed each others loss and cried together. Both families were going to take their men home with them. Each was a husband, a son, a brother and one was a father. That day made me realize that no matter how much I or anyone do for the families of the deceased, unless I truly get involved with them one on one, try to step into their shoes and feel along side them, all I'm doing is being an accessory after the fact.

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