Such a lovely summer afternoon generated a joyful mood with the breeze blowing and clouds diffusing the heat as they drift in front of the sun. Folks gathered there instead glanced around at each other in stunned bereavement, their eyes glazed over with grief. The cemetery. No one should have to spend an amazing day like that at a funeral.
Friends of the deceased young man milled about behind the line of family members at graveside. Fellow service members weren’t able to attend the hometown memorial as most of them were still at their duty station. Others from his unit were still hospitalized from injuries they’d sustained in the IED explosion. His were too serious to survive and snuffed out his life at a mere 27 years.
A procession of motorcycles ran along the entire block of lanes surrounding the section of cemetery where he’d be buried. Bikers presented a formidable show of force, a seemingly impenetrable shield surrounding the gravesite, and Sergeant Miller’s family was glad to have the friendly strangers there. Especially burly ones who embodied such strength.
Having their protection made the Millers feel safe in a situation where no such assurance should’ve been necessary. Their son had given his life for his country — the ultimate sacrifice — yet his loved ones and friends had to restrict attendance to only those individuals truly paying their respects. Unfortunately, others arrived who were anything but courteous.
A short motorcade tried to pull up to the plot unnoticed in their dented-up vehicles with Kansas license plates. A faded yellow, late-model Chevy Caprice leading the brigade came to a stop, and a small man emerged from the front passenger door. His hubris preceded him through an arrogant smile that slithered across his face. He was short and thin, with cheekbones threatening to slice through his transparent skin and dingy blond hair that had grayed into the dull color of metal. Removing a straw cowboy hat, its plastered ring still encircling his head, he waved the Stetson in a broad swoop before him. The gesture seemed a rallying cry to his troops.
The legion of followers emerged from their vehicles — station wagons with small children and teenagers, as well as trucks and SUVs with adult passengers — lifting their block-lettered signs from within. Every last one of them had a message to deliver from the Westboro Baptist Church. They wanted the world to know their congregation’s purpose. The group, like their leader, believed this funeral needed to be protested. It was their purpose to interrupt a calm, quiet goodbye to a young United States service member in order to purport their mission of hatred.
Signs read, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for IEDs.” Others read, “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Die God Laughs.” Funeral goers saw the yellow and black signs emerge in the hands of school-aged kids, and their wails of sorrow grew louder than before. The church members seemed unfazed and urged their children forward to form a parade line. Adult faces, like that of their conductor, glowed with vitriol and indignation, whereas the little ones’ seemed perplexed and anxious. Prods from their elders kept the tiny minions moving regardless of their stilted steps.
A cacophony of motorcycle engines broke through the increasing volume of discord on both sides of the cemetery lane, those on the lush green lawn and others holding harsh placards on the hard, cold pavement. The bikers gunned their motors and moved in between the two factions, revving their bikes to declare their purpose – keeping the unwelcome visitors away from the funeral. An over-sized American flag billowing from the lead motorcycle blocked the church leader’s face from the sight line of dead soldier’s family.
As the driver of the first bike lowered his kickstand, he removed his helmet and approached the man standing defiantly with his cowboy hat in hand and trying to whip his followers into a frenzy. A twisted expression and too-large dentures accentuated his ghoulish features and emphasized the monster he truly embodied, but he seemed to shrink as the leather-vested gentleman neared him. No one else could hear the few words expressed at such close range to the bilious little man, but the congregation recognized his signal for immediate retreat. They all turned, hustled the children back into the cars, and withdrew from the scene in haste.
The clamor faded into the distance, and appreciative cheers of funeral goers eventually settled down, too. The motorcyclists escorted the stymied Westboro bunch out and blocked any chance at re-entry so the burial ceremony could proceed as originally planned. An overhead row of cumulus clouds fully dispersed, and only the harmonious summer songbirds accompanying the eulogy remained to be heard.
*This post is being submitted for The Friday Fright Write at Cheney’s blog Giving Up The Ghost. She prompted participants to “write about the scariest creature you can imagine.”