In Arlington National Cemetery, November 13, 2015
Our vehicle procession is led up a winding lane between two fields of white headstones gleaming in the sun. We stop below the "transfer point," emerge into the cool autumn morning, and hear music. We walk toward it. A U.S. Marine Corps marching band in dress red uniforms is playing martial music, their instruments flaring sunlight; a platoon of Marine riflemen in dress blues is arrayed beside the band, flags flying. One of their few has gone.
We're on these hallowed grounds to help honor Donald Hugh Green, a friendly and humorous hero who died in April at the age of 85. The scene should be breath-taking for any historically-conscious American. For Don's family and those of us who were his friends and colleagues, the feelings at this point and later in the ceremony cannot be described adequately in words. But, we can use words to remember why we're here, at least from the perspective of one friend and colleague of more than 20 years.
Three things seemed to matter most to Don: his family, being a Marine (he thought that there is no such thing as a former Marine), and using his exceptional skills as a lawyer to assist others, especially to teach less experienced lawyers.
As for family, Don considered Carol, his wife of more than 50 years, to be his best friend. He never tired of talking about their escapades together. When Carol died fairly recently, Don was devastated. He also was vocally proud of his children: Michael, Meg, Matthew, and Mark. They gave Carol and Don 11 grandchildren.
In his early years, Don was a smart New Jersey boy who went to Syracuse University and then to Harvard Law School. Upon graduating from Harvard Law, he did one of those bold, unexpected things that would characterize his zestful life: he became a Marine Officer. He did his tour, mostly on tanks, and (to the amazement of many who found out later) acted as a boxing coach. He left active duty as a Captain, but that was just the beginning of his military years.
A significant part of Don's ensuing years was devoted to the Marine Corps Reserves. There, he did exceptionally meritorious and original work developing ethical principles for the International Law of War. For this, Don received the coveted Legion of Merit, the highest non-combat-related decoration of the U.S. Armed Forces. (It's one of two medals issued as neck ware, the other being the Medal of Honor.) When his 30 years as a Marine officially ended, Don was a full Colonel in the Reserves.
During his Reserve duty, Don was practicing law at the U.S. Department of Justice and, later, in private practice. He became a very successful trial attorney, arbitrator, and mediator. He also somehow found time to teach less experienced lawyers. He was a brilliant teacher who could mix technical expertise, skill, discipline, and humor into hands-on gospel. Don co-founded and co-led one of the most popular and acclaimed programs of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. In that program, he helped improve the skills and attitudes of many thousands of trial lawyers and bestowed on most of them their first “oorah.”
Don's extraordinary life should be recognized in an extraordinary way, and that is what is now beginning at the transfer point. He is receiving full military honors. As the music plays and hand salutes are presented, a rectangular urn of Don's cremated remains is transferred slowly and reverently to a flag-wrapped coffin in the bed of a caisson.
The horses that will pull the caisson are ridden and led by horsemen from the Army's Old Guard (3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment), Arlington Cemetery's prestigious Honor Guard. Behind the caisson is a dark, riderless horse with empty reversed boots in the stirrups, the traditional symbolization of a fallen leader looking back at his troops one last time. (The riderless horse appears only in Army and Marine ceremonies and only for officers of the rank of Colonel or above, including the Commander in Chief.)
Once the urn is transferred, the Marines move out into the vehicle lane; their red band column turning into blue as the platoon follows. The flag-draped caisson creaks to a start behind the marching Marines, followed by the riderless horse. Behind that dark horse, members of Don's family walk, as do some of the other attendees. Following us in a line of vehicles are the rest of the attendees. We all wind our way up the lane past headstones on our left and right.
After about 500 yards, the band and platoon veer right, up a bricked walkway that bisects grave sites, then the Marines veer again onto the grass furrows between the graves. There they halt. The caisson and the rest of us stop at the base of the walkway. Don's urn is reverently removed from the caisson and marched up the walkway to a canopied sitting area for the family. About 100 feet from that area stands a firing party of seven Marine riflemen and their non-commissioned-officer-in-charge. Behind that party is a columbarium, one of Arlington's nine walls of urn vaults.
After Don's family is seated, a Navy Chaplain greets them and delivers a short memorial message, followed by six Marines performing an elaborate, silent ceremony in which the urn’s covering flag is stretched and folded into a triangle.
Orders are heard from the NCO in charge of the firing party in the field. Seven rifles are raised chest-high, fired with a loud “crack,” and returned to port arms; then again, then once more. (The historic origin of this is the three volleys that were fired to signal the end of a temporary truce for removing the fallen from a battlefield.)
During the sudden quiet that follows, a trumpeter marches out of the band formation and stands alone amid the white headstones. He turns toward Don's family and raises the trumpet to his lips. And then "Taps" floats over the cemetery – low, slow, heart-chilling, heart-warming.
As the notes fade, a Marine Colonel gives Don’s oldest son the triangulated flag and has a few private words with the family, as does the Chaplain. It is done.
Semper Fi, Don.
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~ Barbara and Dick