First, thanks for the post.
I fought, shot, and got shot (technically my helmet got shot, but I WAS wearing it at the time, and nothing else..but that is another story :) ) in the gulf war. Combat itself for me was mostly an intermittently adrenalin punctuated fugue of pure exhaustion (for 5 days after sitting in the desert bored mindless for 6 mo). I can't imagine the psychic toll on the troops pulling repeated prolonged tours in the "war on terror", or the difficulties of vietnam, or how about leaving home for 4 to 5 years straight in WWII.
Got a little sidetracked there.....my point is that much more emotional for me than combat was some of the ceremonies. The military has had centuries to perfect these, and they work. I will still feel a little full in the throat at a simple flag change done well. By far the most potent ceremony I (too often) took part in was the last roll call. It is a small unit ceremony that I suspect few who have not served have witnessed (FELT). I stole the description below, as you read it keep in mind that every time the dead doesn't answer, the first sergeant's call to him becomes louder, more strident, almost angry. It is ...eerie...haunting. I cried at more than one of these.
For those who don't know about the last roll call. It is part of a memorial ceremony when a soldier in a unit is killed. The company first sergeant or the platoon sergeant depending on how big the ceremony is will call off the names of everybody in the unit. Everybody responds with "Here first sergeant" or "here sergeant". The dead soldiers name is said last. It is first called out with as rank and last name eg. Pvt. Doe. Of course there is no response so then it is called out with rank first and last name eg. Pvt. John Doe... and then the last time the name is called it is rank, first, middle, and last name eg. Pvt John Joeseph Doe. After there is no response for the third time the firing squad of 7 people fires three volleys and then taps is played. The ceremony includes a display of boots with a rifle stuck in the ground between them and a helmet resting on top, and also the person's picture.
Edited by Alveolus - 11/11/11 at 9:21pm