Hard times and unfortunate events usually bring out the best in people. Those are the times we are cast into the churning-pot to see what we are made of, and the cream of the crop rises to the top. Respect, honor, and tribute, these are the measures by which a person is examined at the end of their life. This is true for everyone, and the degree of tribute depends on how many people the deceased one touched in their life and in what way. When you add to the mix, “Killed in Action Defending America,” the tribute grows exponentially. For Army Specialist Joshua Ray Farris, the scales tipped heavily in his favor.
On Saturday, July 18, 2009, as a member of the funeral procession for Josh Farris from Smithville to Blanco County, I was reminded of the values of patriotism. After talking to many others afterward, no one expected to see or feel what happened on Josh’s final journey.
To begin with, the United States Army: What little bits and pieces of the military support to the family I saw as a friend were overwhelming. Soldiers, active and inactive, those who knew Josh and those who did not, came from near and far to pay their respects. There was at least one dressed-out soldier near the casket 24 hours a day. Josh was buried with full active duty military honors. His Post Commander, a Major General, came from Fort Drum, New York. He awarded Josh’s mother, Marla, with the “Bronze Star” and the “Purple Heart.” They performed a 21-Gun Salute. They played “Taps.” They meticulously folded his casket flag and presented it to Marla.
Josh was honored by some 75-100 Patriot Guard Riders. They are a motorcycle group of military veterans who, by invitation only, pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. This is a very impressive group of “American flag-toting” individuals who volunteer their time and expense to honor and protect the funeral process. They are the epitome of “patriotism.” I venture to say their level of organization and dedication to American values and standards are unequaled anywhere in the world. My gratitude goes out to them.
And then, there were the various law enforcement agencies, which flawlessly protected the procession the entire 90-some-odd-miles. I guess there were about 25 motorcycle cops and maybe a dozen other county and Constable vehicles whose coordinated effort operated with the precision of a fine-tuned Swiss watch. As each officer blocked traffic, they dismounted and stood at attention with their hand over their heart. Watching those officers conduct their task at hand was quite the spectacle. Kudos to those men and women in law enforcement.
Having said all that, the most impressive, heart-warming attribute of the procession was the American people, who were neither common nor ordinary. I’m talking about the extraordinary people who had never even heard of Joshua Farris, but either read about, or saw on television, his sacrifice in defense of America. Then, by the thousands, they sat around the kitchen table discussing how they could in some way pay their respects and honor a brave young man who gave his life for their freedom. And the solution they all came to was to find out the route of the procession and go stand on the side of the road in the heat of the day for hours and wait for Josh to pass by them on his way to his final resting place. There is no doubt in my mind that in all of the hundreds of vehicles in the procession, including the officers, there was not a dry eye in the whole lot. But these tears were not necessarily tears of sorrow, rather tears of acknowledgment of the respect and honor being paid to our son, our brother, our nephew, our cousin, and our friend.
Mile after mile of the dirge, the road was lined with people of all walks of life. A solitary old man or woman standing in front of their parked car saluting. Families with kids, with lawn chairs and ice chests, standing with their hands on their hearts waving the American flag. Clusters of families with two men stretching out a large flag, women holding flags on poles, medium kids with medium flags, and small kids with small flags. And signs were displayed saying, “God Bless America,” “God Bless You, Josh,” “Thank You, Josh - We Love You.”
If that wasn’t enough to wet your eyes, then we hit the city of Dripping Springs. I don’t know the population of Dripping Springs, but I know half of the town was standing on the side of the road as we passed, and it became difficult to drive for the flow of emotion.
Words begin to fail me now as I am still overwhelmed by the overflow of support from loving, caring fellow Americans. None of us ever imagined that would happen. It never crossed our minds but, when we saw it, we were astonished. Our hearts were lifted and warmed.
Thank you, all of you amazing Americans who chose in your hearts to honor our fallen hero - Joshua Ray Farris.