When I was a little kid, probably no more than five years old, I remember riding in the back seat of whatever old junker car we were driving then with my cousin Dewayne next to me. My mom and her sister, Anica, were in the front.
I don’t know how many times it happened, but I distinctly recall coming upon military convoys a few times while we drove, long lines of trucks hauling tanks and various artillery vehicles and, of course, troops. All civilian traffic would pull over to the side of the road and wait for the convoy to pass, which sometimes took quite a while.
And the entire time, my mom and Aunt Anica would sit there and cry.
When I first met Buddy Blake decades later in Port Arthur, all those memories of the convoys came rushing back. Buddy was a Lutheran pastor and, more important to him, he was a veteran of the United States Army. And he told me nothing could bring a lump to his throat and a pain to his heart as much as the thought of the death of a fellow military veteran.
Whenever a person died in Southeast Texas, Buddy and his buddies, all retired veterans of the Vietnam War or Korean War or both, would don their military uniforms and show up to provide full military honors at that fellow vet’s funeral. And they did it all for free.
As an adult, I now realize my mom’s and aunt’s tears were because they had recently experienced World War II and the Korean War, so their feelings were still raw. Like Buddy, I’m sure they had lumps in their throats and pain in their hearts when they saw those familiar signs of war. And I imagine those feelings are magnified many times over for veterans like Buddy Blake when they are called to provide final services for their comrades in arms.
The day I spent in 2008 with Buddy and the Southeast Texas Veterans Service Group as they laid a fellow veteran to rest at a cemetery in Beaumont is one I will never forget—and perhaps when you watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.