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A Most Unusual Ceremony at the Cemetery

Updated on February 4, 2018
Brian (age 12) and Andy (age 6) practicing their salutes.
Brian (age 12) and Andy (age 6) practicing their salutes. | Source
Andy and Brian at the Cemetery
Andy and Brian at the Cemetery | Source

On May 20, 2012, our youngest son, Andy, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He wanted all 3 of his brothers to witness this event. As some of you know, our second son, Brian, died in January, 2010. There would only be one place we could hold the commissioning if Brian was to attend.

As it turns out, when Brian died, the mausoleum his urn was to be placed in was just being built. The urn containing his ashes was placed in another mausoleum vault temporarily. Now, with the new building completed, the commissioning would be an excellent opportunity for Brian's urn to be placed in its niche. Family and friends would be gathered for both events.

We had to have the ceremony on a Sunday and that required special permission and arrangements with the cemetery.

We arrived at the cemetery early to arrange chairs and make sure everything was set for the ceremony. The cemetery personnel already had Brian's urn there. It was on a table, positioned front and center, ready to view his youngest brother be commissioned.

Retired U.S. Navy Captain and family friend administering the Oath to Andy
Retired U.S. Navy Captain and family friend administering the Oath to Andy | Source

The Ceremony

  • Introduction and Opening Prayer: After introductions of the participants, Fr. Dan, our nephew, offered an opening prayer and gave a short talk about Brain.
  • Oath of Office: The Oath of Office commissioning Andy as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps was administered by a family friend and retired U.S. Navy Captain.
  • Pinning on of Rank: My wife and I had the privilege of pinning on the gold bars of a 2nd Lieutenant onto shoulders of Andy's uniform.
  • Traditional First Salute: A Staff Sargent from the local Marine Corps reserve unit offered to attend the ceremony for Andy's first salute as a commissioned officer. As is the tradition, following the first salute, the newly commissioned officer gives a silver dollar to the enlisted person who saluted him.
  • Blessing and Marine Corps Prayer Following a blessing for Andy and his future military career, the Marine Corps Prayer was recited.

United States Marine Corps Logo
United States Marine Corps Logo | Source

A Military Escort for Brian by Andy

Although Brian was not in the military, he had the benefit of a military escort to his final resting place. After allowing Brian's grandparents and great aunt one last chance to say goodbye, Andy carried Brian's urn to his niche.

What is with the Notre Dame Hat?

Once Brian's urn was placed in the niche and following the last blessing, family and friends were invited to place notes or other items in with him. One of these mementos was a Notre Dame stocking cap that was placed over the top of the urn.

Brian did not attend Notre Dame, but he loved Notre Dame Football. One of my greatest memories of Brian was the October weekend we took the train to South Bend, IN to see Notre Dame play Purdue.

Before the game we wandered around the campus. We couldn't go to the game without a Notre Dame sweatshirt. So off to the bookstore we went. Former coach Jerry Foust was there autographing a book so we picked one up for his grandfather. We also purchased our sweatshirts and the stocking cap.

Following the bookstore, we made our way to the Grotto and walked past “Touchdown Jesus”. We took plenty of pictures and had a great time even though Notre Dame ended up on the short end of the final score.

In life, Brian was always cold, even in the summer. The hat was to 'keep him warm' and to serve as a reminder of his love of Notre Dame and that football game.

Other items placed with Brian included several photos and a letter from a cousin about her daughter that was born very premature not long before Brian died. Brian's brothers placed a Pink Floyd "The Dark Side of the Moon" CD and a Diablo III Guest Pass in the niche. A nephew placed his favorite guitar pick and Brian's mother and I left an empty box of candy cigarettes. All of the items were just a small part of what we remembered and loved about Brian.

A Niche in Life, A Niche in Death

The theme of this ceremony was the word “niche”.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Ninth Edition, a niche can mean,

  1. A position or role in which one is suited.
  2. A shallow recess in a wall, in which an ornament maybe displayed.

Andy had worked hard to get into the Marines. He had recently graduated from college. He was beginning to find his niche in life.

For Brian, his ashes in the decorative urn with the Notre Dame hat on it were about to be placed in their final resting place, a niche in a wall of a new mausoleum.

It was odd, but we actually felt like we had a chance to spend a little time with Brian again. We certainly appreciated the opportunity Andy's commissioning provided.

It has been over 3 years since this ceremony. Brian has been gone over 5 years and Andy is well into his Marine career. We still miss Brian dearly. We pray that God (and Brian) will watch over Andy and keep him safe as he serves our Nation.

Semper Fi Andy.

Rest in Peace Brian.

© 2012 Mark Shulkosky


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