I don't claim to be a wise man, A poet or a saint.
Just another man who's searching
For a better way.
But my heart beats loud as thunder
For the things that I believe.
Sometimes I want to run for cover.
Sometimes I want to scream.
Bang a drum for tomorrow.
Bang a drum for the past.
Bang a drum for the heroes
Who won't come back.
Bang a drum for the promise.
Bang a drum for the lies.
Bang a drum for the lovers
And the tears they cry.
Bang a drum
Bang it loudly,
Or as soft as you need.
But as long as my heart keeps banging
I've got a reason to believe.

---Jon Bon Jovi
Bang A Drum

After Russ died there was a delay of a couple weeks before a wake was held. And a further delay before he was cremated and buried with military honors in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Elwood, Illinois, just south of Joliet.

I visited his grave for the first time on Memorial Day, 2008. Almost a year after he died.

I was touched by the experience. Rows and rows of white tombstones, all arrayed in military crispness and precision. Each adorned with a single American flag. And a huge American flag blowing at half-mast over the ceremony platform. Drums and bugles and other instruments softly tuning up. Servicemen in full dress uniform. Veterans in combat fatigues. Families bearing flowers and memories. Hundreds of civilians walking respectfully down long rows of markers, gathering to honor those who had served.

Russ' marker lies in the area reserved for those who had been cremated. A simple white rectangle lying flat on the ground. With his full name (Russell Richard Niemann), his branch of service (United States Army), his rank (Sergeant), the date of his birth (December 23, 1946) and the date of his death (June 15, 2007).

And the little dash between those two dates, representing the life he lived.

I took off my hat, and knelt down on one knee to touch his gravestone. I said a short prayer of gratitude. And played the simple, haunting melody of Taps on my harmonica. As I stood to leave, I noticed a young woman with her toddler daughter at a nearby grave. She whispered "Thanks." And I tipped my hat in a salute to the man she was grieving.

And all that I've written down here is my attempt to tip my hat, and pay honor to the life that the "dash" represents.

Previous Next page