Only the lonely
How a small group remembers Detroit's forgotten dead
Published: February 15, 2012
Three soldiers march slowly into the room. Their uniforms are crisp, their steps are precise.
They're members of the Michigan National Guard, and performing military funerals is their sole function. They've done thousands of these ceremonies; some elaborate and packed, some simple and sparse. None has been like this one though.
Deak had noticed that a few of the names on the list were veterans, and so she arranged this military component to the ceremony. This time, when a candle is lit for an unknown soldier, a miniature flag will be placed next to it.
The guardsmen flank the table where the candles sit. A large American flag has been placed in the middle, folded into a tight triangle. One of them lifts a bugle, and taps is solemnly played.
They take the flag from the table and unfurl it until it's stretched its length and held like a banner. A long pause follows. It's then refolded and taken by the commanding officer, Master Sgt. Robert Moore, 54. He's done 1,400 funerals. He even did Rosa Parks' funeral, surrounded by thousands of mourners remembering someone famous and loved. Now he's in a little room where there's not even family present to accept the ceremonial flag.
He instead walks to Bill Kiesgen, the funeral director, seated as a stand-in for the usually present wife, or son, or daughter of the deceased. Moore gets down on one knee, and hands the flag to Kiesgen, slowly to signify the seriousness of the gesture. Then he stands, and the soldiers march out of the room.
"It gives you a little closure at the end of the day," says 25-year-old Spc. Jacob Rizkallah, in a quiet voice. "Who can go to work and say you do something like this?"
A stack of white roses rests on a little table. Each is wrapped and bow-tied with a card attached to it, and each card has the name on it of one of the people remembered here today.
After the service has ended, after the last bell has tolled, after the final flame is extinguished, the mourners here will take the flowers home, and hand them out, and ask people to pray for these strangers, to keep them in mind so their memory is not entirely extinguished.
The room has an air like the end of a church service, as if blessings have been bestowed. Deak sits among the mostly empty seats and smiles at what just took place.
"We don't live in a society where bodies are just put into a grave and covered in lime," she says. "Everybody matters. And you don't have to know people to want to care for them, even at this point, even if we don't know if they're male or female. This is something that's real necessary to do. It means something."
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