The Funeral Detail

The Funeral Detail

In 1973 I was a young, newly made SP6 in the Army, stationed at Ft. Polk, LA. A 12 year veteran, I had served 5 years in Germany, and 1 in Viet Nam. The VN war was still hot and one of the duties which fell on soldiers from time to time was Funeral detail, consisting of seven soldiers for the firing squad, two flag folders, and a higher ranking soldier to command and present the flag to the dead soldier’s survivors.

On one such occasion, the funeral was for a Black soldier from a small town about 50 miles from Ft. Polk. The Army does not see soldiers in any color but green, so no effort was made to assign Black soldiers to the detail. Whoever was next on the First Sergeant’s duty roster was assigned. As usual, this detail was roughly half White, half Black. PVT Andrew Williams was a young, naive, white boy from rural Nebraska, whose first exposure to Black people was in Army basic training, where he was thoroughly intimidated by his Black Drill Sergeant.

After the graveside service, the family invited the soldiers to come to their home and take part in the wake. There would be deep South food in abundance, and perhaps some adult beverages.

The dead soldier’s mother was a middle aged, motherly woman of ample girth. Seeing PVT Williams’ discomfort, she called him over, took his hands in hers, and asked, “Son, are you worried about being here with all these black boys?” Though he didn’t answer, his expression made it obvious that he was.

“Tell me, son, do you have any money on you?”, she asked.

“Yes Ma’am, I have about $200.00.”,he answered.

“ Oh, my God, son you better let me hold that for you, some of these niggas might try to take it away from you.”

So, PVT Williams gave his money to the kindly woman, who discretely stored it in her bosom.

He then enjoyed the next couple of hours eating the delicious food and even making friends with one of the fallen soldier’s brothers. When it came time to return to Ft. Polk, PVT Williams went to the kindly mother of the deceased.

“Ma’am, I have to leave now. May I have my money back?”, he asked.

She looked him straight in the eye, and with a look of concern, said “What money are you talking about, son?”.