The Flag-Draped Coffin

In loving honor and memory of Gerald "Jake" Graybill, World War II-era veteran.

I have some sad family news to share. My next-to-last remaining uncle, Uncle Jake, age 91, passed away last week. He was an army veteran who served with the Signal Corps in Fort Pepperrell, Newfoundland, in the years 1945 to 1946, at the end of World War II.

It had been years since I'd seen Uncle Jake, but my cousin Susie had been keeping me apprised of his condition on Facebook chats, which it seems has become my family's main way of staying in touch. My uncle took a turn for the worse and early in the week, he passed.

Several members of my family made it to the viewing and funeral on Saturday morning, which was held at a United Methodist church in Richfield, PA, the same church where my little sister was married, the churchyard the very one where my maternal grandparents are interred.

It was pretty much a quintessential summer day, sunny and warm with perfect blue skies, and we were glad for the air conditioning in both the church and the parish house. In all of the church pews, tucked in with the hymnals, were containers of antibacterial soap labeled "Spread the word of God, not germs." For some reason, that really tickled me.

Stories were told about my uncle, some of which I'd never heard before. One of them was about the famous escape of the "desperate, vicious, and gun-crazy" Nolan Gang from Lewisburg Prison, in September of 1952. In their wild dash for liberty, the gang stole my Uncle Jake's car in Richfield, and left it on Shade Mountain. They eventually went down in a hail of bullets in New York City; only one member was taken alive.

There was also some real, old-fashioned preaching that went on, by three different pastors, including a retelling of the Gospel story of Jesus and salvation: "Do you know Jesus? Have you accepted him as your savior?" At home later, my husband and I were reflecting on the day's events. He, a Lutheran, observed, "When the Methodists have you trapped, they pound you hard with Jesus." He said it with a twinkle in his eye.

And then the service was over, and the pallbearers carried my uncle to the hearse, for the long, slow drive up the hill. Several service members stood by in the shade, with guns at the ready, in observance of the solemnity of the day's events.

Some quiet words were read. The flag was removed from the coffin and folded, and presented to the family, including three young great-grandsons, who were adorably dressed in matching plaid shirts.

A bugler stepped forward and played Taps, and the sound rang pure and sweet and wistful through the green hills and fields of rural central Pennsylvania. We all wiped a tear from our eyes. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

I don't have to tell you that it was beautiful, but it surely was. The best part of the day, though, for me, was visiting with my family and cousins, sharing a fellowship meal and catching up on our lives, and reliving some memories.

My father, in a suit, had made it to the service; my mom, freshly home from rehab, did not. My husband and I went and visited them after the events, and found my mother doing much better, and my dad preparing for a heart valve surgery in the coming few weeks. (Getting old is not for sissies, as Bette Davis said.)

Is there anything at all in the world more important than family? No, I think not.

My soundtrack song is one I've used before, but it seems so fitting for this day: Warren Zevon, with Keep Me in Your Heart. I'm awfully fond of the Eddie Vedder cover as well, so here it is too.

And here is a link to my uncle's obituary.

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