Wednesday, February 13, 2008

With Our Hands Over Our Hearts

We had another two hour weather delay this morning. I had the news on so I'd know if we closed but I really wasn't paying attention. I puttered around on my computer, working on a blog post and ignored my news feeds.

I started my elementary route right on time but fell a minute behind because several kids were at sitters or not ready because of the delay.

After picking up my first 13 kids I turned onto Main St. Just as student number 14 was boarding, the fire department's rescue truck pulled across and blocked off the next intersection - right at the corner where the funeral home is. Had I paid attention to the news I would have been prepared but since I hadn't I pulled up to about 50 feet from the intersection, parked in the middle of my lane and called in my situation to alert other drivers that the road was closed. My initial thought was that it must be a funeral for a local fire fighter.

My view was blocked by the truck but very quickly men from the VFW appeared holding American flags and flanked the side street. A procession of cars started around the corner between them. I was briefly distracted by traffic behind me and the kids getting out of their seatbelts to see what was going on - a big no-no on my bus. I was just about to order them back into their seats when members of the 10th Mountain Division started to line up on the porch of the funeral home. Waves of sadness washed over me as I realized what we were about to witness.

A line of Oswego County Sheriff's cars came around the truck on the other side and parked on the side of the road, even with and facing my bus. The officers got out and formed a line, which was quickly joined by NYS Troopers and local Officers who had parked somewhere out of my view. A line of men in blue was now standing at attention in the roadway right in front of the bus and facing the funeral home.

The kids were standing up and asking questions and I was doing my best to answer them. Some were impatient that we were being held up in this way. I told them that somebody important had died and pointed out the three honor guards that we could see from our vantage point. I told them that these men were here to honor a soldier and that we should also show our respect by waiting patiently. A couple were upset at the idea of anyone being dead and I tied to comfort them and not tear up myself. We talked about respect, honor, dignity and war. As we watched, several local residents came out from their homes to stand on the other three corners in the bitter weather.

Suddenly the officers in front of us started saluting and a few moments later we could see the casket being carried onto the porch by more soldiers. This was the first time most of the kids had ever seen a casket. I looked up in my mirror and my problem student, the one that is always in trouble for saying inappropriate things, picking on younger kids or for being just plain disruptive, this student was standing next to their seat and saluting. Despite the lump in my throat I suggested that anybody that wanted to show their respect for this fallen soldier should stand with their hands over their hearts just like the people standing on the corners were doing. The one student continued to salute and the rest of us placed our hands over our hearts and remained that way until the last of the mourners had been escorted into the funeral home.

If we hadn't had a delay we would not have been there. If I had listened to the news I might have rerouted and we would not have been there. If I had not been running one minute late we would not have been there. I believe that we were meant to be there with our hands over our hearts.

I now know that we witnessed the very sad homecoming of Army Sgt. Timothy Van Orman. Sgt. Van Orman served in Afghanistan from August 2003 to May 2004 and in Iraq from August 2005 to July 2006. In September he was deployed for the third time. Last week Sgt. Van Orman became a casualty of war, dying at the age of 24. He leaves behind a wife, infant daughter, his parents and three siblings. More on his homecoming can be found here and his obituary here.

Four of my friends have sons in the armed forces. I have never met Mike, who was wounded in Irag, but his mother is thankful that he is doing well and stationed in the US. Another friend's son is in the Air Force and will probably be deployed again. The other two young men are both in the Army and besides being the sons of friends they are two of "my" kids. Bob has finished basic and is continuing his training and will be deployed soon. Jim is still in basic training. I spent a lot of time today thinking about these four young men.

My heart felt sympathy goes out to the family of Sgt. Van Orman.


  1. You've done such a great job describing the solemness of this momentous occasion Apple. I can tell it made a lasting impression on you, and hope it did the same for the kids on the bus. It's important for them to see what our service men and women do for this country...and other less fortunate countries, to help us keep (or gain) our freedoms.
    Thanks for sharing the moment. My heart goes out to this young man's family.

  2. Wow, I almost felt like I was on the bus with you. I'm glad you let them out of their seats, that is probably a memory some of them will carry through their lifetime.