Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, a 32-year-old Army pilot, had been in Afghanistan for only a few days when an enemy rocket killed him and another soldier last month as they dashed toward their helicopter. Now he was heading home.
But before he left the mortuary here, he would need to be properly dressed. And so Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes labored meticulously, almost lovingly, over every crease and fold, every ribbon and badge, of the dress uniform that would clothe Captain Blanchard in his final resting place.
“It’s more than an honor,” Sergeant Deynes said. “It’s a blessing to dress that soldier for the last time.”
Once the body is ready, the mortuary staff prepares dress uniforms for each, even if the coffin is closed at the funeral with the uniform laid on top of the remains, and even if the body is to be cremated.
The sergeant starched and pressed a white shirt, ironed a crease into the pants, steamed wrinkles out of the jacket and then rolled a lint remover over all of it, twice.
Gently, he laid the pieces onto a padded table. Black socks protruded from the pants and white gloves from the sleeves. The funeral would be a closed coffin, but it all still had to look right.
“They are not going to see it,” he said. “I do it for myself.”
A week later, Captain Blanchard’s remains were flown to his home state, Washington, where he was buried in a military cemetery near Spokane.
Before his funeral, his mother spent time alone with her son but did not open his coffin. But later that night, she said, her husband and two other sons did, wanting to say one last farewell.
Inside, they saw a uniform, white gloves crossed, buttons gleaming, perfect in every detail.
I highly recommend the HBO movie “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon. An excellent look at how war dead are treated on the way to their final resting place.