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How a homeless Marine with no family was honored by strangers

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Vietnam Veteran Marine honored with burial

I didn’t know Marine Pvt. Paul Jamison.

I didn’t know before last Thursday that this Vietnam veteran served his country from the age of 19 when he joined the United States Marine Corps.

Pvt. Jamison passed away last week. “After an extensive search, there are no known survivors,” says a line from his obituary.

His story was circulated on social media, with a call to action to stand up for this veteran. The story touched me deeply when I read it the afternoon before his burial service.

I immediately thought of the episode from “The West Wing” television show in which President Bartlett’s assistant, Toby Ziegler, moved heaven and earth to order an honor guard for a homeless veteran who died on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The episode was entitled “In Excelsis Deo.”

At first President Bartlett was worried about the precedent this may set and asked, “Toby, if we start pulling strings like this, don’t you think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?” “I can only hope so, sir,” was the reply.

I still recall the haunting music of the boys’ choir singing “The Little Drummer Boy.” I even went back and watched excerpts of the episode on YouTube. “I played my drum for him … pa rum pum pum pum. I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.”

I kept thinking about Pvt. Jamison’s upcoming service. And then all those other thoughts of things I “should” do flooded my mind. After all, I had deadlines to meet – and lots of things on my platter. I didn’t know him, and there was nothing compelling me to attend the service.

Except my heart and soul wouldn’t let go of the idea. And I’ve learned to pay attention to those signals. When I woke up Friday morning, I was determined to go to the service. I rearranged my schedule and made time to attend. I was possessed by a burning desire to do so.

When I drove into the veterans’ cemetery, there were no signs of the burial site. At first I was afraid no one had shown up to honor this man. Continuing on up the winding road, however, my fears were quelled. Signs began to emerge. Obviously, others had felt the same tug as me.

Pvt. Jamison’s brothers and sisters in the military were out in full force – some in uniform, some in leather jackets, some on motorcycles. Cars lined the road leading to the burial site on both sides. Babies turned out in strollers, along with men and women of all ages.

It was a very moving service, chock full of protocol – honor guard, rifle salutes, bugles playing taps and hands over hearts. There was so much reverence and respect you could feel it in the air. I venture to say many of us were in the same boat: not knowing Pvt. Jamison personally, but there to pay our respects.

The anonymity of the whole experience lent an extra element of authenticity. There were no labels or identifiers like friends or family, no designated pews. The crowd was a blend of suits, jeans, shorts and sandals. We were all just there, weaving a rich tapestry, together in spirit.

As the flag was handed down “on behalf of a grateful nation,” I found myself silently acknowledging all those Vietnam vets who returned home without enthusiastic homecomings, not to mention the 50,000 or so who gave their lives as the ultimate sacrifice.

I went up to the casket afterward, touched it and thanked Pvt. Jamison – and all the other veterans – for their service to our country.

I always knew there was a special bond that existed among those who utter

“Semper Fi” to one another. Technically, the Latin phrase, Semper Fidelis, can be interpreted to mean “always faithful” or “always loyal.” In the United States it is best known as the motto of the Marine Corps.

Now I know why. It’s a way of life.

It underscores their dedication to one another, their service and their country. It’s not “Sometimes Faithful” or “When It’s Convenient Faithful.” It’s “Always Faithful.” NO MATTER WHAT – which is rock solid refreshing in a world that is filled with too many options and backdoor escapes.

Veteran Cam Beck describes the motto as non-negotiable. “The longer I’m out of the service,” says Beck, “the more I recognize my draw to and longing for the culture of ‘Semper Fidelis.’ The phrase simply symbolizes the ability of common people to become part of a brotherhood that demands more of its members than any other comparable group in the world.”

Nothing I did last Friday – or on many other days – touched my heartspace like Pvt. Jamison’s service. Although it lasted less than a half hour, it will be indelibly etched on my soul.

No, I wasn’t honored to know Pvt. Jamison.

But I played my best for him.

©2016, “Linda Arnold Living Well,” all rights reserved.

Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor, certified wellness instructor and keynote speaker with a home in Ocean Isle Beach. She is also the founder and former CEO of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at linda@lindaarnold.org.

© Copyright © 2016 The Brunswick Beacon, Landmark Community Newspapers LLC (LCNI). All rights reserved.

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