One perspective on working with the fallen

By 1st Lt. Lucas Bohannan | Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations | July 19, 2011

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — I have heard it is difficult to explain to someone who has never tasted salt how it tastes. So common an experience, yet near impossible to describe in words. Seeing my Airmen engaged in the sacred mission of preparing our fallen for their return home is like tasting salt.

We hear stories ever so often of our fallen soldiers return home and how the community becomes involved, the elementary schools, fire departments and Patriot Guards lining the streets truly touches each of us. It magnifies what being a part of a community is and what this nation truly means.

I know this because I have been to one such service of a close friend, (Army Sgt.) WillSun Mock, in 2006. It was ridiculously cold out for motorcycles but the Patriot Guard was there in full force with nearly 260 bikes. I remember wondering at the hundreds of people lining the streets of four small towns, hand over heart, along the 40-minute drive to the cemetery in Harper, Kansas. How did this start? How did so many people know? My guess is that there was one person there who had tasted the "salt."

That one person must have had enthusiasm, conviction and dedication. I'd venture to say that they epitomized Dignity, Honor and Respect for the fallen; and Care, Service, and Support to their families.

There wasn't a dry eye at the funeral and there wasn't a doubt in the world that his family no longer felt alone. It is a tribute to the love, support and respect these families receive and the healing power in community. I know personally the impact and comfort it gave that family. I still keep in touch with WillSun's brother JSun. Upon speaking with him recently he expressed his gratitude and how neither he nor anyone who attended that service will ever forget the support they witnessed and the feelings they had.

I am thankful to be a part of this sacred mission. It touches me to see our Airmen take initiative and personal care for our fallen and to taste as it were the "salt." It is an opportunity to make ourselves a part of something much greater and gives true sense of meaning to "being there" for someone.

(Bohannan is deployed to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs. He is assigned to the 75th Force Support Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah.