He didn't know the man beneath the flag

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011

Photo courtesy of the Citizen's Voice
Sometimes, moments that dive straight to your core and touch you in a way you never expected happen at the most unexpected times. It's time pausing for a brief instant and singling you out. For that moment, everything aligns and pierces you sharp and exact. Monday, I experienced one of those moments.

It was 11 a.m. when I arrived at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport. Nervous about my first flight (though, more nervous about navigating the three airports I would be visiting) I made my way through the doors and checked in. Easy enough. I even managed to meet Katherine, a sweet Irish woman from Dublin, as I stood in line. She was helpful in explaining a few things I was unsure of and even told me stories of her own travels and that of her children.

After moving through security, I headed toward the scent of coffee. Just behind the small vendor, where you could also buy a Budweiser, a group of men had assembled along the wall. All of them were looking out toward the tarmac, but I couldn't see what it was that had caught their attention.

Coffee in hand, I walked to an open spot at the window. There, on the tarmac, was a small plane and a group of Marines standing in formation. They moved forward like clockwork. Exact and angular. Pulling a casket draped in 235 years of blood, sweat, struggle and tears. My hand slowly moved toward my hat, pulling it off and placing it upon the sill of the window.

Next to me, men were silent save for one who I could hear holding back tears. They all looked on at the scene unfolding slowly below. Flags on the backs of motorcycles sitting upon the tarmac rippled and swayed in the wind as more men looked on and saluted the silver casket of the fallen Marine.

As I turned to walk away, Katherine moved toward the window to peer out at the uniformed men placing the casket into the back of the hearse. Most of the men had moved away from the window, but one man remained standing next to Katherine. It was the man who I had heard choked up breaths emanating from.

As the hearse pulled away and the motorcycles followed suit, Katherine and the man turned and moved away from the window. The man walked toward me with his ballcap in hand. I could see the pain in his face and the mist flowing across his eyes.

"Did you know him," I asked.

The man looked back through the window as the last of the procession moved out of sight across the tarmac. With a solemn look, he turned back toward me and said quietly, "No."

He fumbled with his hat and moved on as I looked through the window at the barren concrete where only the plane sat now. There were no sounds except for the quite "no" uttered to me a moment before echoing within my mind. The man, so touched and pained by the loss of the Marine covered with a flag, had made an unforgettable impression upon me. It is this moment in time that I will never forget. A moment where time stopped and aimed its constant flow directly at me to show me something powerful.

*****

The man beneath that flag was Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Dolphin. His wife, Lindsey, and members of Rolling Thunder and Friends of the Forgotten were among those saluting Dolphin as he was carried from the plane. 

Staff Sgt. Dolphin died on July 31st while supporting combat operations Herat Province of Afghanistan. Dolphin died in combat. Story here: Citizens Voice article on Staff Sgt. Dolphin.

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