“Tonight, I will Sleep”

I first heard this story almost 15 years ago from my dear friend and mentor, Mr. Todd W. VanBeck. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak in front of a group of people, I try to make sure that I fit this story in. It is patriotic, sobering and reminds me why I go to work each day.


For many of us, it appears that the federal government just keeps spending and spending our tax dollars, often without rhyme or reason. President Reagan had a great quote attributed to him, “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other”.

That being as it may, there is one department in the federal government that has no budgetary constraints. They get whatever they need to accomplish their mission and it shouldn’t be any other way. I am referring to the United States Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, located in Hawaii. This office is tasked with the responsibility of retrieving, identifying, transporting and burying American military personnel.

This laboratory is a “high-tech” forensics operation that attracts anthropologists from some of the best schools in the Country. They use whatever means available to identify our fallen soldiers, regardless of how little information they have to work with.

Our story starts with some bones that we discovered, buried in Europe. Not much to go on other than some remnants of a GI’s uniform. The scientists went to work and after all their efforts, determined these were the remains of a soldier who was reported missing in action fifty-one years ago! More remarkable was that after doing a little more research; they were surprised to find out that this man’s mother was still alive and living in Lebanon, PA, a small community of rolling farmlands, near Harrisburg, on the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

The now identified bones were carefully wrapped in white cloth, placed in a casket and then the uniform of the soldier’s rank was placed over his remains. The casket was sealed, draped with an American flag and put on a plane to Pennsylvania. It is policy that someone from the lab escorts the remains to the place of burial. It just so happened that the anthropologist that made the identification was a young woman from the Northeast and this was her first mission. Her name was Amy and she relayed to us that she was originally concerned about the wounds that would reopen for this elderly mother. Surely she had reconciled the fact that her son was dead, why were we doing this to her after all these years?

The day of the funeral came and the funeral home sent it’s limousine to the residence of the elderly woman and brought her back to where she was escorted into the parlor where her son’s casket was placed between an honor guard of two soldiers. She asked for a chair and for the next hour, simply sat there, her outstretched hand placed on the flag. Again, Amy felt guilty for putting this woman through this pain.

The funeral took place, and the procession made it’s way to Ft. Indiantown Gap National Cemetery where the burial took place. The firing squad and playing of taps reminded all in attendance that the battle was over for the warrior and then those attending began to make their way back to their cars. Still, Amy wondered why?

As the old woman was being lead back to the limousine, she stopped and turned to look at Amy, motioning for her to come. Full of fear and guilt, Amy came forward to the woman, who stood there, holding to her chest, the flag that up to a few minutes ago, had covered her son’s casket. “The undertaker tells me that you are the one that identified my son. Is that so?”. Amy, unsure if she wanted to answer, replied in the affirmative. The old woman continued, “Are you sure it is him?”. Amy looked the woman in the eyes and gently said yes. Then came the sentences that may have forever changed Amy’s life and answered the question of why after all these years, what happened that day was so important.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart”, the old lady said, still clutching the flag, tears in her eyes, “For fifty one years, I never had one good night’s sleep as I wondered if my boy was dead or alive and if he was alive, where was he and was he being taken care of? Thank you, for tonight, I will sleep, because I know where my baby is”

Finally, Amy understood.

About Ray V.

Living between Aiken & Charleston,, South Carolina, USA, I like to share what I am looking at, thinking about or listening to. I refer to this as the view out my window. Thanks for stopping by.
This entry was posted in May Their Memory be Eternal, Tonight I Will Sleep, US Marine Corps & Veterans Funeral Care, Veterans Funeral Care Hits The Road and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Tonight, I will Sleep”

  1. Pingback: “Tonight, I will Sleep” | Green Mountain Scribes

  2. Alan Sexton says:

    I remember this moving story from my days in the funeral service profession, Ray. Thank you for posting it.


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