by Mike Hemming

As the notes of Taps float past a flag at half-mast, three men, unrelated brothers, pay honor to a forth. They have traveled far to be here this day. The one on the left went out of his way to bring the old man in the middle. The old man bent and gray, leans on a walker refusing to sit on a chair offered to him. As long as he can stand he will, for he is the last that can stand from his past. The rest, are gone now, resting in coffins across this land or like some at the bottom of the sea. He is the last one of a small club made smaller by time, for he wears a Combat Pin under his Dolphins. They went out, unsure of returning, off to win a war. They did win, at great cost to their numbers, at a higher percentage than any other group in our armed forces.

The man on the left served on the same boat after the war. During another war that started almost as soon as the other ended. For 5 long years, he fought his share of a long so-called Cold War. Many others served with him during this time. Over 1200 of them served on each of these old boats long after the war they were built for ended.

Hull numbers from steel long gone now bind these men together. Three numbers imbedded in the souls of the 1200 men. One day, the men will all be gone like the ships they sailed on. But for now, until he is old and bent like the older man beside him, he will remember and honor those who have served as he has.

The sailor on the right, young like they all once were, stands in awe of the man before him and those beside him. They were tested in their own ways and found to be strong and true to their shipmates. His test will come he knows, and he hopes he will not let down his mates that recently pinned Dolphins on his chest. For they trust him with their lives now as all submarine sailors do when they qualify a man to join them.

The man they honor and say good bye to now, is beside his wife once more. She who waited through all the war patrols praying for his return to her and their son. Her unheralded quiet bravery as she worked in a war factory won her no medals, for all she ever wanted was him home again. Now they are together again, after four lonely years for him, without her.

The solemn notes of taps gone, the waft of smoke from the gun volley higher than the tree tops like a message to the Gods, the mourners start to leave. But the three stand their ground, the two younger ones waiting for the older to finish his memories.

Then stiff knarled hands release the walker and a bent back straightens as a right hand snaps into one last salute. The other two match him, all straight and steady they offer their highest respect they can, to one of their own, one last time.