The Big One
Run of Hollow
Like About Bob
Preface & Reader Response
It was a P-51 fighter, the type of aircraft that might have escorted R.W.'s bomber as he flew out on and returned from missions in the Pacific during World War II.
THE FINAL MISSION
by Jerry Murley
"HULME, Lt. Col. Robert Wyatt, USAF Retired Age 91 of Franklin, TN, January 13, 2011. Born in Bordeaux, TN; 1940 Graduate of East High School, Nashville, TN; joined the Army in 1941 as a Private in the infantry; transferred to the Air Force and graduated in Class 430 D as a Lt. on April 22, 1943; served in WWII in the South Pacific as a B-24 and B-25 pilot; flew 70 missions; discharged from active duty in September 1946 as Captain in the USAF; he remained in the reserves until his retirement from the Air Force, September 16, 1979 as a Lt. Col." (Portion of the obituary published in The Tennessean on January 14, 2011)
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On a sunny but still cold Saturday afternoon on 15 January 2011, a private burial ceremony took place at Leiper's Fork Cemetery for Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.). The tiny cemetery stands on a slight hill overlooking a large farm. There were white patches of snow on the ground that had fallen on the previous Monday.
As we drove up the one-way driveway behind the hearse, there was a lone bagpiper in highland plaid to the left and five military honor guards in silent rigidity to the right. The commanding guard faced the back door of the white hearse from the left. Joyce and I exited the car escorting Bobbie Jane to one of the folding chairs under the green canopy by the open grave at the Hulme family site. There was the muffled sound of a slight breeze, the chill of which was blocked by a wall of canvas between the chairs and the driveway.
Within minutes, as the appointed time approached, guests who had attended the visitation in Franklin began to arrive, parking their cars in single file behind ours. They walked slowly and quietly up the incline to the burial site.
At 2 p.m. a single airplane approached low in the sky. The sound overhead was an unfamiliar one. The plane had a few wide red stripes painted underneath. It was a P-51 fighter, the type of aircraft that might have escorted R.W.'s bomber as he flew out on and returned from missions in the Pacific during World War II. Just the day before, Joyce's younger sister, Carole, had arranged for the flyover.
The sight of the fighter plane banking, rolling, and tilting its wings as it passed low over the tent drew the attention and wonder of those near the grave side and those few who were arriving late. Awe and ache soared through our bodies, lifting and pressing down on us with every pass. The distinctive, varying sound of the engine harkened back to decades ago and the combat missions of Mr. Hulme's life. The sounds pulled our insides out with every maneuver.
Then there was silence and the bagpipe began. Halting tears was now a full-time occupation as the honor guard moved slowly through its paces, removing the flag-draped coffin from the hearse and carrying it to the grave. After the coffin was positioned over the open grave and placed at rest, the six guards lifted and folded the flag. Five of the guards walked away from the grave. Two positioned themselves in the distance to our left and right. Seated family were asked to stand as the guard on the left played "Taps." Once family members were reseated, the flag, in a triangle bundle, was presented to Mrs. Hulme from a grateful president and military for Lt. Col. R.W. Hulme's services long ago in time of peril.
The large young preacher read several Old Testament passages at the request of Mrs. Hulme. He asked for comments of celebration from guests and family. Some old friends remembered Mr. Hulme's reckless driving in his old VW bug, "flying low" as he used to call it. One remembered him as always sweet, only to be corrected by one of the daughters from the front row to peals of knowing laughter. Wife, daughters, grandchildren, and friends then walked individually to the coffin and placed a red or yellow flower on top.
At the closing prayer of the minister, the bagpiper, standing close by the tent to the right, began to play "Amazing Grace." Halfway through the evocative piece, which had been requested by Mr. Hulme, the piper slowly turned and walked toward and across the driveway, passing the hearse. The wail of the haunting pipes faded into the distance and into silence.
In short order the coffin was lowered into the grave. The grandsons and cousins who served as pallbearers carried the vault and placed it over the coffin. When the vault was lowered and snapped into place on the coffin, the green tarp covering a pile of freshly dug dirt was removed and readied for deposit in the half-empty grave.
The family then drove to the farm to eat and to gather for stories and final words about what had taken place in the long month that was Mr. Hulme's last among us. In five short hours the day came to a close. R.W.'s final mission was well underway.