Saturday, yellow bows adorned mail boxes, telephone poles, front doors of local businesses. The cold winter’s breeze caused the ribbons to flutter in the wind. An American flag was attached to almost every downtown parking meter. I can’t say for sure, but there must be at least two hundred parking meters around the square. The flags furled and unfurled in the wind, as if paying homage to the hundreds of flights Nick had flown in his short life.
My dear friend, Connie, and I found a place to stand near the First Baptist Church where Nick’s body would lie in state during visitation later that day. Hundreds of people lined the streets, quietly, solemnly waiting.
Nick’s last flight brought him to the local county airport where he was met by the Air Force Honor Guard, over one hundred motorcycle riders, including members of the Patriot Guard, his wife, parents, brothers and other family members. Hundreds, probably thousands, stood alongside the processional route, waving their small American flags, honoring this American hero.
Those of us downtown didn’t have to wait very long. Although the crowd had not been noisy, total silence reigned as the red and blue lights of the lead police cruiser appeared at the top of the hill. there
Then there was the sound. In the distance, it was a low buzz, like hundreds of swarming bees. But the closer the procession came, the noise became the distinctive sound of over one hundred motorcycles, moving in formation. It was an awesome sight and sound. Never again will I hear the roar of a motorcycle without remembering this day. Most of the riders, if not all, were veterans. Many had tears in their eyes as they escorted one of their own home
The long white hearse bearing Nick’s body slowly moved forward, followed by the limos with Nick’s family.
The processional parked in front of the First Baptist Church and was met by the current and former pastors. The pall bearers and the Patriot Guard stood at attention as the flag-draped casket was removed from the hearse and lowered onto the stand. The pall bearers, with stoic faces, gently lifted the casket and followed the pastors into the church. Nick’s beautiful wife, his parents and brothers and other family members walked behind. From my vantage point, I saw no one in the crowd of by-standers with dry eyes.
Visitation was later that day from 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Connie and I went back, arriving around 4:00 PM. As a testimony of how well-loved the Whitlock Family is, there were so many people waiting in line to speak to Jimmy and Claire, that it took us two hours to reach the front of the sanctuary where they stood by their son’s casket. Before I could even say anything to her, gracious and kind as always, Claire asked me how my mother was (who had been hospitalized earlier in the week). That’s Claire. Always looking after everyone else. Thinking of others and putting others before her own needs.
Claire and her husband, Jimmy, are strong in their faith. It is their faith that will bring them through this tragedy. That—and the fact that they know they will reunited with Nick again someday.
I wrote this blog for several reasons. First, to remind all of us that our freedom isn’t free. There are men and women who daily pay the highest price of giving their lives so that we might have our freedom. May we never become so complacent that we fail to pray for our troups every day and when we see a serviceman or servicewoman in public, we stop our busy lives long enough to express our gratitude. I wrote this blog to pay tribute to Captain Nicholas Schade Whitlock and to thank his family for their sacrifice.
Finally, I wrote this blog to encourage everyone to be ready to meet God. We do not know the day or the hour when God will call us home. So we must be ready in all seasons.
This story will have a happy ending because Claire and Jimmy know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will be reunited with Nick in heaven.
What about you? Will your story have a happy ending?