Saturday, July 11, 2015

Requiescat in pace, amicus meus

Yesterday, Louise and I rented a car and drove the 120 miles or so to Arlington National Cemetery, to say our last goodbyes to our good friend and American Red Cross coworker, Jeff Clapper.

Jeff passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in March, leaving behind a wife, two adult daughters, and a large community of friends and associates who are reeling to this day. There has been an outpouring of condolences and remembrances on both official and unofficial Red Cross channels, which I will not repeat here.

We were in the Bahamas in March, and thus unable to attend his funeral services. However, for better or worse, interment at Arlington National Cemetery is currently running on about a three to five month backlog, and so his interment was scheduled for yesterday, July 10, 2015. We had put it in our calendar in hopes that we would be back in the country and able to attend.

We met Jeff in Louisiana, on our very first deployment with the Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Jeff was on temporary assignment to the Disaster Relief organization from his day job, in the IT organization elsewhere within the Red Cross. We became good friends over the course of several weeks in the field.

Not long afterwards, Jeff took a permanent assignment on the leadership team for the field technology arm of Disaster Services, assuming responsibility for networking, network operations, and the Emergency Communications Response Vehicles. From that point forward we worked with Jeff on each and every operation to which we were deployed, albeit at some distance, as we were usually in the field whereas he was typically at HQ in Washington. We did get to spend some time together in person a few times each year at training events, and whenever we were in DC.

We had met Jeff well after his retirement from the armed services, which he talked about only occasionally. He put in 25 years of service in the US Army, retiring at the rank of Sergeant First Class. His interment ceremony at Arlington was befitting such a career, begun at a difficult time to be in the Army.

We've been to Arlington before, and done the usual "tourist" things there, in my case more than once. I can not watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier without weeping, and the whole experience of standing on this hallowed ground is extremely powerful. It is even more so when attending an interment in person.

If you go to Arlington you will almost certainly see one; they conduct some 30-40 each day. I noted a group of tourists, remaining at a respectful distance, observing the ceremony. Even at a distance it is hard not to be moved by it. Jeff was interred with standard military honors, including an Army casket team, an Honor Guard, and a bugler.

We both managed to keep ourselves together through most of it, including the eulogy delivered by a Navy Chaplain. I think we both lost it a bit when the Honor Guard delivered the three-volley salute. By the time of the presentation of the flag we were both pretty weepy.

After the ceremony we made our way to the Officers Club at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, adjacent to the cemetery, for a brief reception. There we reconnected with several Red Cross friends, some of whom we have not seen for many years. It was nice to see everyone, even under such unfortunate circumstances.

Jeff was a good friend, a valued coworker, a fellow geek, and one of the kindest people we've ever known. We miss him terribly. Rest in peace, dear friend.

(Photo: Theresa Snow, with permission of the Clapper family)

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