Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 31, 2019

Godspeed, Uncle Stan!

We said “goodbye” to Uncle Stan earlier this month. He had been in failing health for some time and had told me almost every time I called recently that he was ready to go - except that he didn’t want to leave Aunt Kay. They celebrated their 71st anniversary in October, and have taken care of each other all those years.

On the evening of May 5, I made one of my almost-weekly phone calls. Stan was having a hard time breathing and talking. Aunt Kay called the next day and said he died three hours later as they were getting ready for bed. He told her he was tired and didn’t think he had the strength to go on, but he didn’t want to leave her. She told him it was OK - that she would be fine. They prayed while holding hands and then in her presence he slipped away.

Although they didn’t have children, Stan and Kay had 15 nieces and nephews, whom they lavished with love and attention. They showered us with gifts from their European trips; visited us in Kansas as often as they could when we were growing up; took us to “exotic” California destinations such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the beach, and the Hollywood Bowl; attended our weddings; remembered our birthdays; and planned numerous family reunions - and then repeated the process for our children and grandchildren.

As a veteran of World War II, Stan chose to be buried at Riverside National Cemetery in California. At 921 acres, it is the third-largest cemetery managed by the National Cemetery Administration - behind Calverton in New York and the Abraham Lincoln in Illinois. Husband Art, daughter Katie, sister Gaila, her husband Humberto and I were among those who gathered to pay tribute.

Because the cemetery hosts some 45 services every day, we were given precise instructions on where to be - Staging Area 2 - and when - 11:15 a.m. Once we all were gathered, we waited for a guide, who then led the hearse and the rest of our vehicles to the committal shelter - designed to provide shade while allowing the sun to shine through. It was a partly-cloudy morning, with occasional bursts of sunshine. Rain had soaked the area the previous few days, something Stan would have appreciated as he was always worried how dry the nearby hills were.

Nephews and family friends accompanied his flag-draped coffin to the front of the shelter. Kay and the rest of us followed behind.

Two uniformed Air Force sergeants, a man and a woman, took positions at the ends of the coffin. Standing at attention, they slowly lifted the flag with white-gloved hands and pulled it tight. Three rifle volleys rang out from the honor guard standing at some distance from the shelter. Then a distant bugler played “Taps.”

The tradition of firing three volleys dates back to the European wars of the late 17th century. Shots were fired on the battlefield to signal a pause in the fighting so both sides could remove the bodies of their fallen. The volleys represent the words duty, honor and country.

The stretched flag, which had been held without the faintest sign of motion, was then twice folded lengthwise. Then the man held the end with the field of stars while the woman carefully and silently made triangular folds. Once completed, she presented it to her comrade, who then turned to Kay. Kneeling, while reverently placing the flag in her hands, he said the president and the nation were grateful for Stan’s service. The cemetery guide then gave Kay a small bag with the cartridge casings from the earlier volley.

The minister said a few words, and then we left the cemetery for the memorial service at the First Baptist Church of Yorba Linda, Stan and Kay’s church home for more than 40 years.

With Los Angeles-area freeway traffic being what it is, some of us were a bit slow covering the intervening 40 miles. We stopped by our hotel to pick up the sunflower arrangement brother Dave, Gaila and I bought to represent Stan’s years in Kansas.

Several people came to the front of the church to talk about Stan. I had volunteered to do so, and the notes I had scribbled kept me on track through a few “Stan stories.” I shared his reminiscences about growing up on the Freeland farms in Kansas during the Depression and Dust Bowl years, his high school days, and his time in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific during World War II. I also spoke about my 2004 and 2005 trips with them to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial.

Jenna, one of Stan and Kay’s great-nieces, sang “Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace” - a song that was sung during their wedding in 1947. Our daughter Katie, another great-niece, sang “Amazing Grace” at the end of the service - a special request Kay said Stan had made.

Stan had chosen II Timothy, chapter 4, verses 7-8 from the Bible as something he thought fitting. It was printed in the memorial program:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.

Although it’s hard to think about life without Stan, it’s a comfort to know he had 96 good years on the earth. He enjoyed raising roses and golfing. His love for Kay and the rest of his family stands out. So does his dour sense of humor that surprised any companion, even those of us who knew him well. Almost to the end, he watched news shows on TV, searched for information on the Internet, and checked for emails from family and friends.

We have often said that the Freelands are a family that hates to say "goodbye," and so it was with Uncle Stan. But when Gaila and I waved to them on the balcony as we left after our visit last June, it was clear his time was near. Yes, he fought the good fight, not only for his country, but for his church and his family. But it was time.

Godspeed, Uncle Stan! We’ll miss you.

Clockwise from bottom left: Riverside guide, right, and two air force servicemen waiting for the casket to be moved to the committal shelter; flag held over the coffin as "Taps" is played; presentation of the flag to Aunt Kay; Aunt Kay and Uncle Stan's wedding in 1947; Uncle Stan as an airman during WWII; the Kansas contingent with Aunt Kay at the luncheon after the service. (l-r) Gloria, Katie, Art, Humberto, Gaila and Aunt Kay.

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