Chaplain Shulman Heads Home

From, Chaplain Shulman writes about his experiences and his homecoming.

This was moving:

Once at the morgue, I asked one of the young soldiers who worked there if I could sit for awhile with the body, in accordance with ancient Jewish tradition.

A young private walked me down the hall to a small room, where four large gurneys seemed to fill every bit of space, save for a giant ice machine that took up the entire back wall.

On three of the gurneys lay black plastic body bags. A lifeless arm lay on the fourth, still in its camouflage sleeve. The Army doesn’t risk the chance of error in the awful task of match-up, so detached limbs and body parts are sent along separately for conclusive DNA testing.

The soldier showed me to my Jewish casualty – the body bag hadn’t been zipped up yet. I sat in a chair next to him and recited Psalms while they filled plastic bags of ice, and steam-cleaned the creases out of the American flag that would drape over the transfer case for the plane ride.

I looked at the body bags and thought about the three women back home, who’d probably just received news right about then that they were now young widows, single mothers of fatherless children. The three little girls in Idaho and the two little boys in Colorado who’d have to stop crossing off dates on the calendar, waiting for Daddy to come home.

I thought of the parents who were soon to get the phone call letting them know the baby they’d carried home from the hospital, taught to ride a bike, watched graduate from high school, get married and start a family of his own, was coming home on an Air Force plane in a metal box, packed in ice, paperwork fitted neatly in a large manila envelope, his last name written across it with a black, felt-tipped marker, taped to the inside of the lid to avoid any chance of mistaken identity.

At that moment, sitting in the makeshift mortuary, so noticeably quiet, with three bulging body bags and an arm for company, I realized that it’s time to go home.

Enjoy your homecoming, sir. You’ve earned it!