Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jack Pendergast's Funeral at Arlington National Cemetery

[Photos: top, the piper who played a slow tune after the military burial ceremony; middle, a view of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery; bottom, the caisson, pulled by 6 white horses in the procession from the chapel to the burial site.]

This past Wednesday, my daughter Carolan, my brother Kevin, and I drove down from the Cleveland area to Washington, D.C. for the funeral of my cousin Jack Pendergast at Arlington National Cemetery. Jack died in early August, but there is a long delay for burial at our nation's most famous cemetery.

The ride on the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes was beautiful. We exited the Pennsy Pike at Breezewood, and drove through the beautiful hills and mountains of northern Maryland--the hills dressed in their peak fall glory--to our motel in Alexandria, Virginia. I'm pretty sure my old Notre Dame-St. Mary's friend Rene Mirro lives in Alexandria; and I believe my new friend, Jim Sell, lives near there too. Jim is working on a memorial at Gonzaga High School for Steve Shields, my Notre Dame-Innsbruck buddy shot down in Vietnam in 1972. Unfortunately there was no time to visit with Rene or Jim.

We did get to wander around the old town and the Potomac riverside area of Alexandria Wednesday night. Everything there is so different from Cleveland. The area is very busy, very prosperous. Hundreds of people were out and about that night. Stores, boutiques, and restaurants were all busy. The city is dense, traffic is heavy, and there's an air of excitement in the air. All of this contrasts with current-day Cleveland!

In the morning we drove to Arlington National Cemetery and had quite an adventure just trying to get to the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer--just outside the gates to the Cemetery. The problem apparently involved security clearance and we were forced to drive several miles to a special gate where we and our vehicle could be searched. The delay made us almost late for the funeral mass.

The chapel is quite simple and is certainly used for many different faiths. This would be a funeral mass, celebrated by Fr. O'Brien (I think that was his name), probably a family friend of Vicki and Jack Pendergast. I did recognize some faces in the congregation--Vicki Pendergast; and two Hogan relatives who had come from San Diego (Nancy Hogan Acevedo and Kay Hogan Love). I had seen their photos previously, sent to me by my brother Denny and his wife Sher. I'm sure Den and Sher wish they could have attended this funeral!

When the mass was over, the military procession to the burial site began. There was a military band, a caisson pulled by 6 white horses, and a number of soldiers or airmen in the procession. The march to the burial site was quite long, through the winding roads of this incredibly beautiful and holy place.

The burial involved Catholic prayers, songs played by the military band, taps, a 21-gun salute, and the folding of the flag draping the coffin and handing it to Vicki Pendergast. Everything was done with utmost care and respect. The ceremony was very beautiful, very moving. When this part of the ceremony was done, a piper dressed in kilts played a slow tune ("Going Home," I believe).

Three important aspects of Jack's life were honored at the burial: his Catholic religious heritage; his military career of 27 years in the Air Force; and his commitment to his Irish heritage.

After the burial I introduced myself to Vicki and she remembered me from my visit of 4 years ago or so when I met her and Jack for lunch in Baltimore. I then met Dan and Kay, the children of Jack and Vicki. I also said hello to Nancy and met Dan's wife.

Following the burial there was to be a kind of reception/Irish wake at the Dubliner Pub in Washington, D.C. It took Kevin, Carolan, and me a long time to get to the pub because of our inexperience in navigating the Metro subway system. So unfortunately we were late in arriving and I think we missed some eulogies. I'm very sorry that we missed that. We did arrive in time for some Guinness and food and to meet many of Jack's friends and relatives.

At the wake I was able to talk a bit with Dan and Kay Pendergast. Dan and I discovered we attended Ohio State University the same years. In fact, Linda worked at the Horticulture College when Dan was a student there! And Kay attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where my daughter Julia also went to college. I also discovered Vicki was from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, just outside Columbus, and Jack was stationed for a while in Ohio.

We met so many people at the wake my head was spinning and I couldn't keep all the names and relationships straight. We met a Mr. Smith from outside Dayton (Springboro, I think). I found out he is a professional golfer; I told him I was the worst golfer in the world! He attended Ohio University and lived in Reed Hall (and his son is currently at OU and in Reed Hall). My daughters Carolan and Emily both attended OU, and Carolan lived in Reed, and Emily, who's still at OU, lived right next door to Reed.

I also met two other Hogan men. One lives in Aurora or Auburn, New York, where the Coughlin family settled after emigrating from West County Cork, Ireland. This Hogan was surprised the way I pronounced "Coughlin" --as /COG-lin/. He said he pronounced it /COCK-lin/, which is much closer to the Irish pronunciation and the pronunciation of my father and grandfather. I also met another Hogan man, who, I think, lived in the South. I believe his name is Ed. I'm sorry I couldn't keep all these names straight!

After the wake ended at the Dubliner Pub, Carolan, Kevin, and I walked up to the Capitol and then the length of the Mall, stopping at the World War II memorial (which I think of as a memorial to my Dad, my uncles, and to my father-in-law, Art Sanders). Then on to the Vietnam Memorial. We found the etchings of Tommy Fitzpatrick, my cousin, who died there in 1969; Ray ("Buddy") Chasser, St. William's and St. Joe's classmate, who died there in 1967; and my Notre Dame/Innsbruck classmate, Steve Shields, who died in Vietnam in 1972. We rubbed our hands over the etchings of their names and said a prayer for them and for us.

All in all, the funeral and the events surrounding it were moving experiences that we will never forget.

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