83.

A REUNION WITH HAP

Joni found the spot at Arlington National Cemetery for him—on a knoll about twenty paces from where Hap Arnold is buried. General Myers’s wife, Mary Jo, helped her to find it. Joni had known Bennie wanted to rest near his first commanding officer and great mentor, whom he had admired so much, and she had appealed to the wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs for assistance. The head of the staff at Arlington had led them to the grave site and thrust a stave into the ground so that Joni could judge its distance from Hap Arnold’s. He asked if that was close enough and Joni said yes, it was fine, and asked if there was room for her beside it. “That’s the last one left, ma’am,” the official said, but added that Joni’s coffin could be laid on top of Bennie’s and Joni said that would be fine too. That night, as Joni lay beside him in bed, she told Bennie what she had arranged. She heard him say “Ja,” in a tone of approval. During the final months of his long life he often reverted to saying something in the language of his childhood.

The day before the Arlington funeral there was a special Roman Catholic service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington. Joni arranged that too as an additional tribute. Schriever had converted to Roman Catholicism after his marriage to her and the Church had made him a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, but it was the Arlington funeral, approximately three weeks after his death, that would have mattered to him. In his will, he had requested that he be buried with the full military honors due his four stars. General Jumper, the chief of staff, said that these honors were insufficient, that Schriever would go to his grave not simply as a four-star general, but with all the pomp and pageantry reserved for a chief of staff. And so on the morning of July 12, 2005, at Arlington, the Air Force spared no detail. Nine of the service’s ten four-star generals, including Myers, would march behind the coffin. The generals had been holding a conference of four-stars down in Florida and had flown up to Washington early that morning, leaving their tenth colleague behind to tidy things up, while they paid homage to Schriever.

The original red-brick chapel at Fort Myer beside the cemetery gate has no air-conditioning and the day was typical for Washington in July. The temperature was at ninety-five degrees, with the humidity in the eighties. The large crowd of mourners therefore gathered in the newer modernistic chapel nearby to hear the funeral mass. There were hymns and prayers and readings from the Scriptures, but no eulogy during the service. Myers was to deliver the eulogy at graveside. Then the coffin of gunmetal gray, draped in the Stars and Stripes, was wheeled out. The honor guard, in parade dress uniform, came to attention as six of its members grasped the coffin and lifted it atop the old-fashioned field artillery ammunition caisson drawn by six horses. Five of the horses had riders from the honor guard. The saddle on the sixth horse was empty, as were the spurred boots placed in reverse in its stirrups. It seemed fitting that Schriever should be carried to his rest on this antique conveyance, as he had originally been commissioned a second lieutenant in the field artillery as an ROTC cadet at Texas A&M and would joke that he had been unsuited to be a gunner because his legs were too long for the stirrups. His alma mater sent a representative to the funeral. The handsome young man with close-cropped hair stood out because he was in an officer’s uniform of the same vintage as the caisson—riding breeches and well-shined brown boots of the kind in which Schriever had once stood proud and which cadet officers at A&M still wear on ceremonial occasions.

The generals formed up in ranks behind the caisson, Jumper and Myers in the lead row. Behind the four-stars, two three-star generals formed a line. Then, standing all by himself at the end, like the woeful “tail-end Charlie” in a formation of aircraft, was a single major general, a tall, good-looking man with two stars on his shoulder tabs. Dick Henry, one of the few Oldtimers still well enough to attend the funeral, had been in that room at the Pentagon nearly fifty years earlier when men with thirty-three stars on their shoulders had gathered to decide whether the Army’s old training ground of Camp Cooke would become one of the nation’s missile centers. He had been told that day that he would never see the like again. Now he was seeing forty-four stars paying their respects to the Boss. They were doing so in the most uncomfortable circumstances possible. The generals were elegant in their blue uniforms, silver braid on the brims of their caps, their jackets tailored to fit close. It was difficult to imagine attire less suited to the ordeal that lay ahead of them, a half mile march to the grave site in this ferocious heat. One bystander remarked jokingly to a four-star that it was fortunate the modern Air Force required even its senior generals to keep fit, given the task they now faced. The general laughed and turned back into line. Michelangelo Acquaviva, Joni’s adopted son, a specialist four, the equivalent of a corporal, in the Alabama National Guard, who had served in Iraq, had come to the funeral in his Army uniform. General Jumper, to whom Joni had introduced him, invited him to join the march. He stepped in on one side of the two-star tail-end Charlie, while the Texas A&M cadet stepped in on the other. The drum major at the head of the band in front of the horses raised his silver mace high in the air. He brought it down swiftly, the band broke into a marching tune, and the cortege set off for the knoll with the waiting grave. The mourners, sheltering in the air-conditioning of their vehicles, followed the generals in a long, slow-moving stream, with Joni at their head in a black limousine.

When the cortege reached the base of the knoll and the drum major halted it, white-gloved hands of the strong young airmen of the honor guard hefted the coffin from the caisson and carried it up the slope. A sergeant followed close behind, holding aloft Schriever’s personal flag, its four white stars on a field of blue rippling in the faint breeze that was vainly attempting to lend a touch of coolness to the day. As the bearers laid the coffin on straps stretched across the open grave, straps that would be used to lower the coffin into the earth after the ceremony was over and all had departed, three jets in a horizontal line formation flew high overhead. The third jet was separated from the other two by a space wide enough for a fourth aircraft, the missing plane that would fly no more, the aviator’s salute to a fallen comrade.

General Myers stepped forward to a lectern equipped with a microphone that had been set up off to one side of the grave. He praised Schriever as “a man of deep conviction, steady determination, bold vision … a man of action as well as a man of ideals.” Schriever, he said, “had the vision to see beyond the limits of technology and politics, to see the role space and ballistic missiles could play in deterring our enemies and preserving peace.… And he had the courage to press forward despite all the technical challenges and the critics who said it couldn’t be done.” He was glad, he said, that Bennie had lived “to see the end of the Cold War … the Berlin Wall come down … millions of people enjoying free speech and electing their own governments. These are a part of his legacy.” Myers moved to his conclusion. “At some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us … were we truly men of courage, were we truly men of judgment, were we truly men of integrity, were we truly men of dedication? History will record that General Bernard Schriever was such a man.”

The chaplain, the Most Reverend Richard Higgins, Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop for the military services of the United States, resplendent in a pinkish-red skullcap and elegant robes, recited the graveside prayers for the dead. Brett Schriever walked to the lectern and read a short tribute to his father. Schriever’s four-star flag was furled on its staff by the sergeant bearing it, assisted by another sergeant who slid a leather sleeve over the cloth. The band broke into a tune, then commands were shouted from where the firing party was stationed below the knoll and three rifle volleys crashed in the sultry air. A bugler played taps. A senior sergeant folded the Stars and Stripes that draped the coffin into a triangle with the stars showing in the deep blue field. He handed it to General Jumper, who had moved forward to receive it, saluting the general as he did so. Jumper walked over to where Joni was sitting in front of the coffin in the first of several rows of folding metal chairs set up for the family. She looked like a little Italian lady in mourning, her diminutive figure in a black dress with a filmy black scarf over her hair as dark as both garments. She stared at Jumper as he dropped to one knee before her. So much water was running off his face that she thought he was weeping. It was perspiration.

“This is a small token from a very grateful Air Force to the man who helped shape the Air Force we have today. All Americans are grateful to him and to you,” he said, as he placed the flag in her hands and rose. Just then a figure in civilian clothes appeared from the back of the knoll. He bent over Joni for a few minutes with words of condolence while everyone watched in curiosity. The man was Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense since the outset of the administration of George W. Bush, doomed to a resignation in disgrace because of his fervid promotion of the catastrophic war in Iraq. In appearing at the funeral he was paying Schriever singular respect because of the level of his office, but afterward Joni, so familiar with the stage herself, could not help comparing his entrance to that of an actor “coming in from the wings.”

The band played a recessional. Dora, Dodie and Ted Moeller’s middle daughter, named after her grandmother, who had died four years earlier, had thoughtfully brought red roses for her grandfather. She distributed them to the family and these were laid on the coffin. Then Joni stepped forward with a different rose, a yellow rose for the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” and placed it at the head of the coffin. The band and the honor guard marched away. Joni, the family, the generals, the friends all climbed into cars and drove to the postfuneral reception at the Officers’ Club at Fort Myer. The ice sculptures that decorated the main table in the center of the room, customarily of swans and dolphins, were Atlas, Thor, and Titan missiles on this occasion. Bernard Schriever was soon left alone in his place of honor near Hap Arnold in Arlington National Cemetery. An engraver would soon carve under his name and rank on the simple white granite tombstone: “Father of the Air Force’s Ballistic Missile and Space Programs.” Eighty-eight years before, had the six-year-old German boy, clasping his mother’s hand in the cavernous immigrants hall at Ellis Island, been able to foresee what this new country held in store for him, he might have smiled.

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