FT. HAMILTON, N.Y. - MAY 4, 2022 - My last active-duty station was Ft. Hamilton, a tiny, mostly ceremonial base in the heart of New York City. This obscure post was the “face” of the Army to millions in the Big Apple, staffed mostly by administrative types. Which is why I found it surprising to spot highly decorated infantry soldiers, even a few sporting Ranger tabs, milling about the chow hall.
What were these elite combat soldiers doing at sleepy Ft. Hamilton?
I soon learned they were part of the base “Ceremonial Platoon”, whose job it was to bury people, sometimes conducting a dozen funerals a day, rendering final honors to fallen or retired military. I watched them at their work, all spit and polish, displaying total professionalism and compassion to each grieving family as they convey this sad message, “On behalf of the President of the United States, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” Every funeral was, of course, heartbreaking, emotions gushing from tearful relatives in anguish at the loss of their loved one.
“What a terrible emotional toll this must take,” I thought, “on these young Color Guards as they render final honors to those who served.”
Later I learned a terrible truth about “why they were here” at Ft. Hamilton. Each ceremonial platoon member was a “Compassionate” reassignment, having themselves recently suffered a death in their immediate family.
Can you imagine witnessing grief-stricken families, at multiple funerals a day, while you privately mourn the loss of your father, mother, or immediate family member?
Nevertheless, they did so, day in and day out, without complaint, never revealing their inner anguish. To my mind, these were among the bravest soldiers I ever met.
Pictured here are members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, known as the “Old Guard”, rendering final honors to a foreign dignitary. The oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, this ceremonial unit also escorts the President and provides security to our nation’s Capital in times of emergency. Photo by Senior Airman Bridgitte Taylor.
~~ SSG Jim (rt’d), of Your SOT Team