My black heeled shoes sunk in the grass a bit. The man with the gentle face and flyer sun glasses was speaking as he fingered the bullet shells. "This represents Service to One's Country" he said as he stuffed the empty cartridge down into the flag. "This represents Honor to One's Country" he said and pressed another metal shell into the folds of the cloth. "This represents Duty to One's Country"... The flag that Dan gunned for in planes from England to Germany, and the flag that caused Dad to jump out of a burning plane into the hands of the Nazi Germans, the flag that Dan spent many, many months in concentration camp for... now this flag was shaped into a triangle, and gently with respect, handed to a frail, heart broken, elderly woman.
The man in uniform and grey hair looked into the widow's face and spoke with quiet authority. I couldn't hear the words but his face and his entire bearing brought great solidity and comfort. A veteran honoring the man who gave all precious to him to fight against Hitler and all he stood for, against the Japanese ally that bombed Pearl Harbor, against the ideas that still threaten our nation today, he spoke with deep respect and sincerity... The small crowd in black dispersed away from the cometary and the veterans gathered their rifles and flags and also quietly dispersed.
Yesterday it was a great privilege to play my cello for the small funeral service of Dan Piedmont. Although I personally had no relationship with Dan he was a precious grandfather figure to my oldest sister and a good friend to my parents. Dan was a hero in a plane, in church, and in family. As I played my songs and felt the people around me I was reminded of the solemn and seldom embraced role of the artist to hold the grief of others, to provide arms of comfort and breath in difficult times. The hope to somehow provide an anchor and presence which could hold someone through their sorrow in a place where perhaps faith and words of intellect could not penetrate. The intention to express where voices crack and words go away.
I felt humbled to be there playing my cello and thought more about how needed this gift is when the funeral director pointed out that in thirty years he had not seen a service in his funeral home blessed so much with music, that often people do not have the gift of music at this time in their life.
I wondered about cultures like the Senegalese Griot where the musicians hold the expected duty to be present like priests in the community services of marriage and death... Our value may be often forgotten, but as pointed out so perfectly in a commencement speech flying around youtube awhile ago, parents- you may wish your son or daughter chose the medical field or something that guaranteed them being paid regularly more than minimum wage, but when they are present on nine-eleven, when they are the ones guiding the nation in time of deepest tragedy, you will remember that the artist also has a valuable place in society. When tragedy strikes you will be proud of your son or daughter who chooses to be a musician.
Uncle Dan you and your fellow veterans are an incredible inspiration to us here in the United States today. We honor and thank you for your sacrifice and I thank you for the love you have given my family.