On Friday we attended a funeral for one of Mike's firefighter "brothers". Duke passed on August 5th after an 8 month fight with cancer. Since Duke's death was classified as a line-of-duty death, the funeral was a full-fledged fire department service. The VBFD has a special fire truck designed to carry a casket of the fallen firefighter. That alone makes me tear up. Even more so, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Suffolk firefighters and engines/ladders attended the funeral. Being a member of the fire department truly is being part of a brotherhood. I would say most of the FFs from the other municipalities had not even met Duke, but the loss is the same as losing a family member. At the church, the Ladder truck was raised and flying the American flag. All the FFs in attendance stood at attention when Duke's casket went in and out of the church.
After a moving ceremony, the Engines and other apparatus led the procession to the cemetery. Route 58 and I-264 were closed by Suffolk PD and the Sheriff's Dept for the motorcade. I heard Duke's friends and family say how impressed Duke would've been at that! That really is a big deal!
Also at many intersections throughout each city we traveled through on the way to the cemetery, on-duty fire engines were parked on the corners and the FFs were at attention and saluting the entire procession. It was very emotional.
The most moving moment to me was when the Last Alarm* was called. After the ringing of the bells, over the PA it was announced that roll call had been taken and William "Duke" Lee, Jr. had failed to answer. Through the sounds of my own sobs, I heard some version of "May the wind always be at his back and the let the sun shine down on his memory." Then the bagpipes started and Taps was played. I was grateful that I had already taken Nate some distance away from the crowd as I was very teary and gasp-y.
Mike told me to know that I would be well taken care of should anything happen to him. My first instinct is to blurt "Let's not talk about that!" but in the back of my head, I am thankful that the brothers take care of the families the way they do. It is very special.
Here's a picture of my handsome hubby in his Class A uniform.
This picture is my Mikey - I love his smile
*Last Alarm: Throughout most of history, the life of a firefighter has been closely associated with the ringing of a bell. As he began his hours of duty, it was the bell that started it off. Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell, which called him to fight fire and to place his life in jeopardy for the good of his fellow man. And when the fire was out, and the alarm had come to an end the bell rang to signal the end of the call.
Duke has completed his task, his duties well done, and the bell rings five times, followed by a pause, five times, followed by a pause, and five times in memory of and in tribute to his life and service.