Fellow Marines I have a story to tell.
It’s called: “FULL MILITARY HONORS”
By Colonel George Braun, USMCR-Ret
No one encounters Arlington National Cemetery without being engulfed in the history of our country and the realization that freedom is not free. Its cost is priceless and we alive… are the much vested beneficiaries.
On June 5th, 2006, 62 years, less one day, after the invasion of Normandy, World War II, Major General Jack M. Frisbie, a United States Marine, was interned at Arlington National Cemetery, with his formerly deceased and beloved wife Shirley in one appropriate casket. She had been exhumed from her grave in Waukegan, Illinois and shipped to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to fulfill the General’s final will, by Tim Frisbie, his youngest son.
Major General Frisbie had been confined to a rest home, having been overcome with Alzheimer’s disease for the previous ten or so years. He was literally out of touch with the patriotic intensity and dedication that comprised most of his adult life, enduring wars and pursuing dual careers in finance, the Marine Corps reserve, while raising a family.
A small, but not insignificant, gathering of mourners assembled in the Arlington National Cemetery administration building at 0830 that day, and became quickly acquainted with Cindy, his oldest daughter; Tim, one of his two sons; and the three grand-children of two Frisbie daughters.
Attending were a few civilian business friends and respectful representatives of General Frisbie’s distinguished military career. His military service included WW-II (Pacific), as an enlisted Marine, and later as a reserve Marine, mobilized to serve in Korea. He became a 2nd Lieutenant via the meritorious NCO program in 1949.
Highly decorated from combat experience in two wars, he was promoted appropriately as he dedicated the rest of his Marine Corps career interfacing with Commandants to lead and craft the Marine Corps Reserve into a state of well-equipped and trained readiness, unlike the Korean war USMCR mobilization experience. He had set the standards for unit performance and effective officer leadership as President of the Marine Corps Reserve Officer Association (MCROA), and a former C.O. of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th MARDIV, headquartered in Chicago.
Major General Dean Sangalis, USMC, (ret) also a decorated WW-II and Korea veteran, and I had previously collaborated on meeting up at the Sheraton National Hotel near the old Pentagon Navy Annex the day before the internment. We, too, had also commanded 2nd Battalion, after Jack and were in the 15th Staff Group under him afterwards, which became HQ Det-4.
I had previously flown into Washington Reagan many times as a Captain for United airlines, but had not for several years. Looking out the window on the circling approach I saw the Pentagon from the air and it brought back memories of the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Innocent people, some contemporaries of mine, were wasted by uncivilized, religiously misguided, conspiring, amoral human criminals. They were purposely trained in America at its flight schools, and were certified as commercial pilots to gain access; using cockpit travel privileges, to hijack the airliners by surprising and slashing the throats of the pilots with box cutters concealed in their flight bags allowed in the cockpit. They then navigated those winged cocoons to crash into buildings in New York and the Pentagon for the world to see and to attempt to understand.
After landing and a short taxi ride to the hotel, the clerk ironically handed me a key folder with the room number 911 written on it. Our eyes met acknowledging the significance of the coincidence. Much world changing history had been recorded with American blood and resolve since that date. General Jack’s Alzheimer’s had spared him from that experience.
We followed the hearse that following morning to high terrain at Arlington National Cemetery where the road split going around a statue in a field surrounded by mature trees. A Marine Corps Band element and two rifle platoons from Marine Barracks, 8th and “I”, formed on the right fork in parade dress uniforms, their respective red and blue tunics occasionally illuminated by the morning sun randomly bursting through the clouds.
On the left fork we observed the U.S. Army caisson, a partially enclosed wood wagon with buckboard-like wooden wheels hitched to six white horses. Four of them were saddled with US Army riders in their dress uniforms and were awaiting the receipt of the flag draped casket. The casket was soon to be transferred from the hearse by six large, strong, Marine Corps pallbearers in Dress Blue uniforms, highly polished black shoes and white quadrifoiled covers. The pallbearers carefully transferred the casket containing Jack and Shirley’s remains to the caisson with a perfect 5-step synchronous turning maneuver.
A cannon was fired in the distance and the procession, lead by the band element drumming cadence, embarked on the 10-minute trek to the grave site. A saddled, but rider-less black horse followed the caisson, A red flag with two embroidered stars and black streamer was paraded by a lone Marine in Dress Blues. At equal intervals the cannon was fired in the distance 12 times more during the march to the grave site.
At the grave site family and friends assembled to hear a short eulogy expressed by a Navy Chaplain of Captain rank, as part of the burial ceremony.
The pallbearers retrieved the casket from the caisson and carried it to the grave site, but before placing it on the supports spanning the dug-out, they lifted it high over their heads in a gesture of posthumous loyalty. Three volleys from seven riflemen were fired on command, sounding like it came from one Marine…one rifle.
The American flag, taken from the top of the casket, was meticulously folded. Each fold was ceremoniously creased, cupped, and pressed by the white leather gloves of the pallbearers. After inspection the flag was presented to Major General David Bice, Inspector General of the Marine Corps, the active duty representative for the Commandant, General Carl Mundy. With lingering ceremonial slowness depicting the sadness of the occasion, he saluted the flag and the spirit of Major General Jack and Shirley Frisbie.
Exuding unmistakable sincerity and capturing the attention of Cindy’s teen-aged children, Dylan and Aubrey, Major General Bice presented the flag to Tim, (seated) saying softly, “From the President of the United States, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and on behalf of a grateful nation, this flag is presented to you as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service rendered by your loved one.”