SPOKANE, Wash. — Marlene Sawdy wiped fresh tears from her eyes Monday, the flag being folded in front of her causing images of three generations of her military family to come rushing back in an instant.
“When they put on that uniform, they stood a little bit taller,” Sawdy said of her father, brother and son, all veterans of foreign wars and all buried more than 14 years ago without the military honors Congress later said they deserved.
The names of Sawdy’s father, Charles Safreed, a World War II Air Corps mechanic; brother, George Safreed, a Navy veteran who fought during the Vietnam years; and son James Armstrong, an Air Force pilot who signed up in the mid-1970s, were read aloud. They were joined by the names of 72 other servicemembers who were laid to rest without the ceremonial flag folding, playing of “Taps” and prayer from a military chaplain.
The peal of a ceremonial bell and the report of 21 guns rounded out a brief ceremony at Fairmount Memorial Park on Monday afternoon, the most recent in a series of similar observances taking place statewide with the help of the Washington State Veterans Cemetery, Washington Army National Guard Honor Guard, Patriot Guard Riders and other veterans’ organizations.
“We do it every month, and we try to honor the veterans of all wars,” said Cpl. Jacob Anderson, one of the Honor Guard members who presented the burial flag to Sawdy following the ceremony.
The longtime California resident sat in the front row with sister Rose Pierce and husband Dick Sawdy by her side. Dick Sawdy, himself a military service member with close to 40 years in uniform, said the flag and ceremony symbolized for him the resolve of America’s armed forces.
“It shows that freedom always prevails, sooner or later,” Dick Sawdy said.
Rudy Lopez, director of the Washington State Veterans Cemetery near Medical Lake, read the names before an assembly of a couple of dozen attendees and service members in a chapel at Fairmount in northwest Spokane. An act of Congress in 2000 guaranteed observance of the military custom to the families of all honorably discharged veterans, regardless of rank or branch of service.
“Prior to that time, even in recent years, honorably serving men and women have passed away without ever receiving the nation’s formal demonstration of gratitude for their service and sacrifice,” Lopez told attendees. He said after the ceremony that plans are in place to incorporate the reading of the names into the region’s Memorial Day observation.
Marlene Sawdy sat Monday clutching the tri-folded American flag close to her chest as fellow observers filed out of the chapel. She said it’s destined for a display case, which she plans to pick up from Fairchild Air Force Base sometime soon.
“You’re proud of them,” Sawdy said, new tears welling in her eyes. “It’s a reaffirmation of their life’s work.”