William P. Dever, Jr. – Second Lieuenant, United States Army Air Corps

William P. Dever,  Jr.

Second Lieutenant, U.S.
Army Air Forces
515th Bomber Squadron, 376th Bomber Group, Heavy
Entered the Service from: New York
Died: November 11, 1944
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy

Memorial Day – Honoring Those that have Fallen

Another Memorial Day is upon us. Many politicians will render empty speeches to honor our troops' sacrifices they personally never made. Where the political speeches fail, the simple words of those who served can stir the proper thoughts and emotions. The following piece is by a former old Guard Officer. The attached poem was written by one of his soldiers. On the upcoming Memorial Day, a salute and warm thanks from all of us to the troops of the 3rd US Infantry who make sure that duty, honor and country live on from the day you don the uniform, to the day you are recalled from duty on this planet.

By Bob Milani
[email protected]

Memorial Day conjures up so many memories of a previous life.  A military life, a life spent as an infantry officer in command of American soldiers.  No greater honor exists in this world than to lead the wonderful men and women of this blessed country.  And no greater honor exists within the military, as in command of soldiers providing military honors to our fallen comrades.  For more than a year I had the privilege of company command in the prestigious 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Arlington Cemetery.

Those of you who have visited Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, know The Old Guard.  These are the soldiers that guard the Tomb and pay silent tribute to the Unknown Soldier.  Each of these Tomb guard's movements are executed silently, with precision and grace.  Each of their movements replicate a higher purpose:  That of bestowing honor on the dead.  Each movement is choreographed to replicate our nation's highest honor — a 21-gun salute; each Tomb guard does so with their 21-step cadence and their 21-second salute.

Many of us remember President Kennedy's funeral at Arlington Cemetery:  A horse drawn  caisson, John-John's salute, the three rifle volleys, the mellifluous notes of Taps echoing in the hills of Arlington, and the folding and presentation of the flag to Mrs. Kennedy.

The daily life of the average Old Guard Soldier revolves around providing military honors at funerals conducted in Arlington.  It was not uncommon for my company to be assigned more than 10 funerals a day – all of which we're to be executed flawlessly.

Each of these soldiers took their job seriously and trained accordingly.   Whether as part of the casket team, the firing party or the marching platoon, each soldier had a role to play and a job to do.   Precision, timing, teamwork, impeccable appearance, and discipline were the hallmarks of The Old Guard soldier.  There were no slouches.  These soldiers were the best the Army had to offer — they knew it and I knew it.

When these soldiers were not conducting funerals, they were training to conduct funerals.   No one wanted to make a mistake.  The firing party strived to have seven men so synchronized that on the command of “Fire!” the volley sounded like one big “crack. ”  The eight-man casket team's goal was a good flag fold – a tight tuck with no red showing.   All of these movements were choreographed with the military band, the caisson horsemen, the color guard, the marching platoon, and the bugler.  Most of these commands were executed without verbal command and on silent cue.  To witness a funeral at Arlington was to see attention to detail in its minutest form.

One who participates in these events cannot help but be moved.  Many days I fought back tears.  The days that I was assigned to present the flag to the widow of the deceased were the most difficult for me and the difficulty usually started at the playing of Taps.

No matter how professional an organization is, motivating a unit to perform a repetitive task at a high level of execution is not always easy.  For me personalizing the event as much as possible had the necessary effect of drawing out the best in my soldiers.  Anything I could learn before the funeral about the deceased and their family I would pass on to the soldiers.

Soldiers do not express their emotions easily.  I always felt that I was the only one struggling to maintain my composure, but I was not.  The following story really defines The Old Guard and caring attitude exemplified by its soldiers:

We were assigned to perform a military funeral for Second Lieutenant William P. Dever. We were to provide only a headstone marker and military honors for this man – 47 years after his death.

Three weeks before being shipped out to England, William Dever married a beautiful girl.  Six weeks later his plane was shot down over the English Channel and he was killed.  His body was never recovered.

In that very short time before his deployment to England, William Dever and his lovely lady, smitten with young love, had conceived a son.  William Dever's son was present the day of his father's funeral, memorializing a father he never new.  He walked next to his mother behind the horse drawn caisson.  Since there were no remains, the caisson carried only an empty casket bearing an American Flag.  The funeral was very moving to me and to my soldiers as well – more so than I knew at the time.

The day I relinquished command of my company, a soldier presented me the following poem about that man:

In Memory of Second Lieutenant William Dever

“Can you see me?”

I can see you; looking so lost.
The blank stare, the empty expression.

Emotionless you sit – broken, melancholy, I feel your pain . . .
A flag shadows the lawn before a quiet marker standing in silent representation of a fallen hero;
the one you loved . . .

Three sharp cracks that leave your ears ringing.
Taps is lifted up; the melody fills the air;
it's tune wretches the heart, pulling out memories of happiness lost long ago.
As the notes fade gently to their rest;
I can hear the sobs echoing on the wind.

I watch you still; as the flag is folded.
Mesmerized, I am unable to look away.
I watch the strength – the composure, creep it's way back into your spine.

A salute rendered, the flag presented.
To see you receive the flag, clutching it to you;
Maybe you feel you'll regain one last moment of closeness with the one you lost?

I'm still watching you as the crowd slowly departs.
If you look up towards the silent formation on the hill you'll see me too
I'm the soldier with the tears in his eyes.

PFC Kevin W. Baker
Charlie Guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard)
August 1991

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