Have you ever had to call roll? Take attendance? You call the persons name, they say “present” or “here.” If they don’t make a response, no big deal, mark them accordingly and just move on. I was never really a teacher in a public school so I really don’t have a lot of experience. I have had to call roll when the absence was a big deal.
I lost three Soldiers during my time as a First Sergeant in the Army. I had to host the memorial service. Quigley, Phillips, Ramirez. All great Soldiers, all taken home way too early.
The one that is most vivid in my memory still, is the service for Sergeant Phillips. When I first arrived at the unit, he was already a fixture. A Soldier that was excelling. We mentored and promoted him from Specialist, to Corporal, and finally to Sergeant. He was a young man that had stepped up to the challenge of his enlistment. He was growing into the makings of a great Command Sergeant Major like many that came before him. If you knew him, you agree with me that he that possessed aura of a Garland Sullivan or a Wilbur Adams. He was a valued member of our unit. He was even the leader of our color guard.
He was killed in the middle of the night by a drunk driver. She somehow hit him head on an off ramp on some dark Texas highway. Killed him on the spot. At least he didn’t suffer.
We were all dressed up in our best uniforms. Sergeant Phillips was missing from his own honor guard. The one that he usually led. Someone else would be leading rifle shots saluting his service.
It was a crisp sunny day. The wind was blowing, and the sun was shining on Fort Hood, Texas. We had the windows in the chapel open. The breeze was drifting through. The honor guard was visible outside, their dress uniforms, ascots, and rifles. Two bugle players were just out of sight, one for the melody and one for the echo. I had heard them rehearse.
The chaplain and several of us had just said a few words about our friend and fellow Soldier that was just taken from us. His family was sitting in front. He was from Louisiana. Such a big smile he had. Our family was meeting his family. We were both missing him.
“Staff Sergeant Richardson,” I called forth. “Here First Sergeant!” she replied. It was great to hear her voice. She was here.
“Specialist Diaz,” I called this time. “Here First Sergeant!” he replied. It was great to hear his voice.
“Sergeant Phillips,” I called. There was no answer now. “Sergeant Phillips,” I called again. Nothing, silence. That silence is stark. “Sergeant Phillips!” I cried out a third time. Nothing. Nothing.
The silence is finally broken by Sergeant Phillips replacement giving the commands to fire. The shots went off perfectly. Twenty-one gun salute. Seven weapons firing three volleys in unison. Then the buglers began taps. The sadness swirled through that chapel.
Tears rolled out of my eyes and down my cheeks much like the ones that I am currently wiping away as I write this. I didn’t hear your reply when I called your name that day.
Somehow though, I hear you now. “Here First Sergeant!” I hear you Sergeant Phillips. I will mark you present for duty, and I will mark myself present for training. You are missed.