You should know it was a beautiful morning for a funeral.
Rows of trees forming a shaded canopy shielded sunglass wearers from the 100-plus-degree heat expected in Woodland, Calif.
It was a beautiful morning, but not a joyous event.
The funeral was for Pfc. Justin Casillas, one of two soldiers killed when insurgents attacked his outpost in Afghanistan on July 4.
You should know Justin was only 19 when he died on Independence Day. Instead of grilling hot dogs and eating homemade ice cream like many of us were, he was standing guard at Outpost Zerok when a truck rushed his position and exploded.
Now, inside a funeral home in a town looking like a Norman Rockwell postcard, I stood, trying to mouth the prayer that would start the funeral.
“God, help us honor this young man today,” I prayed among the sobs that filled the small chapel. “In your son’s name” I begged God to “Help us see both the intent of his life and the meaning of his sacrifice.”
I think you should know that many people found a connection with Justin. Don Friel was one of those. He spoke at the funeral of his connection to Justin as a football coach, vice principal and employer. With each descriptive word, a sob erupted from a younger sibling or relative.
After Friel sat down, Brig. Gen. Robert Woods from Fort Hood, Texas, spoke. The military sends a general officer to these funerals to convey “the sympathy of a grateful nation,” and Woods did so with the emotion of a man who has two sons in harm’s way. He then laid five posthumous medals on Justin’s polished casket.
I think you should know that a Bronze Star was included in those medals.
With the general’s final salute, I added a prayer and led the march of military pallbearers to the waiting hearse.
Outside the funeral home, a group called the Patriot Guard Riders lined both sides of the street with Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Their forward-facing wheels formed a cautious gauntlet.
I think you should know their vigilance was true to their mission statement, “to show respect for our fallen heroes . . . and shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.”
“Mount up!” shouted the Patriot Guard leader. And with that, the motorcade began their 10-mile procession to the rural grave.
I think you should know that dozens of Woodland residents lined the streets with their heads bowed or a hand over their heart. Emergency vehicles added light and ceremony as 35 Woodland police officers saluted the motorcade. Aging veterans removed their accoutrement-ladened hats and gave crooked, but respectful, salutes.
At the cemetery, a huge flag waved from atop a towering crane. Children stood graveside, asking curious questions about the casket suspended above the freshly dug hole.
I spoke for a few minutes, read the 23rd Psalm, and ended with a prayer. It was all I knew to do. People filed out of the canopy quietly, stopping only briefly to kiss the casket.
July has been the deadliest month for coalition forces in Afghanistan since the war began. Those numbers are real faces, and Casillas was one of those faces.
I just thought you should know.
You can contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or visit his Web site at www.thechaplain.net. Norris is also available to speak to your church, organization or healthcare institution. You can follow him on Twitter — user name is “chaplain” — or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.