Saturday, June 9, 2007

In Memoriam: 1LT Kile West - The Funeral

Correction, courtesy of a good friend of Kile's mother in the comments, made below ("...it wasn't the "unknown lady" who released "Kile's dove"...the parents released him when they were ready to let their brave soldier go.").

As luck would have it, the date the family selected for Kile's funeral (6/9 - for his unit, the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment) was a day I was not scheduled to work, and I had no other obligations. So, I got up early (especially for a Saturday), and headed out for Lifeway Fellowship Church in Killeen. The church isn't far off from Highway 190. When I got to Elms Road and turned right, what caught my eye was the at least 50 American flags blowing in the breeze in front of the church. The Patriot Guard Riders were already on duty, and the service was still 30 minutes away. Not wanting to intrude on friends and family, I sat in my car, working on my project for AnySoldier.com, for about 20 minutes before going in. I figured since I wasn't family and hadn't known Kile, I should hang back and let those who knew Kile have whatever seating was available - the parking lot wasn't completely full when I had arrived, but there were still lots of cars.

The church was filled to capacity. They had already set up folding chairs just inside the sanctuary doors. From the back, I could see the flag-draped casket and some of the floral arrangements, which included a white State of Texas with a Cav patch about where Fort Hood would be on the map. I noticed Kile's Class A uniform jacket was on display, as well as photos of Kile. Just prior to the service beginning, they set up a few more chairs just outside the sanctuary doors and I was invited to take a seat.

The minister spoke first, but I couldn't hear all of what he said - they had to adjust the sound system for those of us in the back to be able to hear. Next, the Army made a presentation to Kile's family of his promotion to First Lieutenant, then also his Bronze Star, his Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal.

The minister spoke again, and shared something Kile's mother had written. The family had prepared a photo montage of Kile's life, which was set to music. One of the songs they played was 19 by country artist Waycross (thanks, CJ, for helping me find it!). After the photo montage was finished, Amazing Grace on bagpipes began (which got the tears flowing), accompanying the video of Kile's Last Flight into Fort Hood and his casket being offloaded from the aircraft and transferred to the waiting hearse by an Army Honor Guard.

When the service at the church concluded, we were asked to stand and clear the center of the lobby. The pallbearers were soldiers from Fort Hood. They carried Kile's casket past and out to the hearse. The funeral would continue at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. I was somewhere in the middle of the procession, and I could see neither the beginning or the ending of it. Most cars on the road not part of the procession stopped, even those going the opposite direction. In the parking lot of a small shopping center not far from the church, a woman stood with two children, with hands over hearts, as we passed. I also noticed some people actually got out of their cars, one older couple clutching small American flags in their hands.

At the cemetery, the Patriot Guard Riders lined the drive in front of the commitment service shelter. Kile's casket wasn't at the shelter yet. When most everyone was around the shelter, we were asked to line up along the drive to greet Kile's casket when it arrived. Kile had been transferred onto a horse-drawn hearse (similar to the one seen here). The pallbearers were following the hearse on foot. Once the hearse was in front of the shelter, the pallbearers carried Kile's casket into the shelter. From where I had been standing prior to everyone being asked to move, I hadn't seen all of what had been prepared for this part of the service. When I turned around for the continued service, I saw the customary soldier's memorial - the rifle planted in the ground, a pair of desert boots, a helmet and dog tags - in the grass next to the walkway leading to the shelter. On the opposite side of the walkway was a small white wooden "church" with white doves inside.

The minister spoke again, talking about a soldier's honor, duty and courage. Prior to the 21-gun salute, the assembled were given warning that it would be loud, but wasn't meant to alarm - it is intended to signal to Heaven that a soldier is on his way home. The rifle salute was followed by the bugler playing "Taps", which again brought tears to my eyes. Before the rifle salute, the Patriot Guard Riders moved to form a semi-circle around the shelter with their American flags. We were all asked to step back and fill out the semi-circle for the conclusion of the service. Finally, a woman (I don't know who she was) spoke, talking about the symbolism of the white dove, as she was held one in her hands. When she finished speaking, they played MercyMe's I Can Only Imagine. She carried the dove around for everyone to see, stopping in front of Kile's family at the end. His family reached out to touch or kiss the dove before the woman tossed it up into the air handed it off to Kile's parents, who then released it to allow it to fly home, along with the three doves released from the white cage. After the service, as the family was leaving, I noticed that some of the women in Kile's family were holding a white dove's feather in one hand, a memento of saying goodbye to Kile.

Additional information

Local news coverage of Kile's funeral service

Stars & Stripes reports on a memorial service for Kile and his fellow Apache Troop soldiers:

Punaro said that even as they died, all six troopers “would not have wanted to be anywhere else.”

“Our troopers displayed all that is right and proper about what we soldiers do by moving immediately to the sound of the guns and moving immediately to a place where Americans were in trouble,” he said.

The soldiers were part of a quick-reaction force when they received word around 7 p.m. that a helicopter had gone down.

“They were in their bunks, on their computers, in the dining facility when the call came,” Punaro recalled. “They immediately jumped up and readied themselves. ... There were two Americans in trouble.”

8 comments:

Toni said...

That was beautiful. Thank you. I was at the funeral for PFC Millican and they released the doves - so beautiful and emotional.

Snooper said...

Thanks again to your unfailing dedication to our troops. Thus old troop appreciates it.

Miss Ladybug said...

Snooper~

It is an honor and a privilege to do so. I'm not out there physically manning the wall, so this is the least I can do...

CJ said...

ML,

Great post. I've probably read it about four times already. Thank you for what you do for our troops to honor them.

CJ

Miss Ladybug said...

CJ~

Thanks. That means a lot, coming from you.

Kari said...

I am a good friend of Kile's mom and my husband served on Kile's crew. He was an amazing man, soldier, and leader. The funeral service did a good job of showing who he was for those who did not have the pleasure of meeting him. I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my life as I did when they showed Kile's final flight, and I was even there in person when he flew in, so I had seen it before, but the bagpipes really got to me. I also wanted to say that it wasn't the "unknown lady" who released "Kile's dove"...the parents released him when they were ready to let their brave soldier go. Kile is going to be greatly missed, but died honorably, we should all be so lucky as to be as respected and honored as he was and always will be. Amazing doesn't even begin to describe him.

Miss Ladybug said...

Kari~

Thanks for the clarification. I didn't have a "front row seat" for that last part of the service, so I only assumed it was the woman.

Also, please pass on my deepest condolences to Kile's mother and the rest of his family.

Anonymous said...

Kile West was a Fraternity Brother of mine from Stephen F. Austin State and only 3 days older then me. I spent 18 months in Baghdad, Iraq working for Kellogg Brown and Root. I had lost a few friends while i was in country and was unable to make their funerals. I was happy and sad to make his, I know how tough it is to be away from friends and family. Im proud to call Kile a friend, brother and Hero.