A caisson flanked by an honor guard and drawn by six matching brown horses held Harold Sandler’s remains in a steel-gray casket draped with an American flag. The eight soldiers in impeccable Army dress were commanded by an equally resplendent captain. All waited in statue-like silence last Tuesday on a road in Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac from Washington.
A black limousine with the old soldier’s family pulled up at 9 a.m. sharp. The mourners climbed from the limo and arranged themselves in single file across the road 50-feet behind the casket. Gloria Sandler, the widow, was in a wheelchair on the far left. Beside her was her daughter, Arlene Moore, then came Arlene’s two adult sons, Brendan and Devin, and their father Colin followed by assorted guests–a dozen or so in all.
Off to one side on a connecting road a 25-piece military band played softly as family members and friends stood in silent reverence. The beat of a single drum announced the band was moving to the head of the procession to lead the column to the grave site.
Slowly the band, caisson with casket on top followed by the mourners walked a half mile at a steady pace. The mourners were flanked by white-marble military head stones on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. Down a hill the procession went, turned left and halted.
A foot-square, wooden brown box containing Capt. Sandler’s ashes was removed from atop the caisson by a member of the honor guard. A second guard member took the folded American flag from the caisson. Together the two soldiers preceded the group to the grave.
The box was placed on a bier before several rows of chairs set up for the mourners. Eight members of the honor guard flanked both sides of the box with military precision. The captain commanding the honor guard stood tall and erect at one end.
The honor guard unfolded the flag above the wooden box as they passed it from hand-to-hand standing two-by-two.
Rabbi Marvin Bash chanted a Hebrew blessing for the dead. Then he recited Capt. Sandler’s military record. He told the mourners he fought in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe. The captain was a recipient of the Silver Star for valor in World War II. He also received the Purple Heart a few days later during a firefight with a German tank.
“We salute the captain for his bravery,” the rabbi concluded.
Off at a distance a seven-man rifle squad fired a three round volley shattering the serenity. The mournful strains of Taps were sounded.
At a distance the military band played “America The Beautiful” as the eight guardsmen crisply refolded the flag passing it from hand-to-hand. The triangular flag was handed to the captain who turned and presented it to the soldier’s widow.
“This flag is presented on behalf of the President of the United States, a grateful nation and the U.S. Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and grateful service,” he whispered to her as she sat in her wheelchair.
Capt. Harold Sandler of Venice, Fla. who served in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Army during World War II now rests forever below the branches of a massive oak in the rolling hills of Arlington.
The cemetery was once an 1,100 acre plantation owned by Martha Washington’s grandson who willed it to his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. She became the wife of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame.
Click here to read Sandler’s interview from 2005.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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