Finley: A service worthy of an American hero

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Lt. Col. Allen Kehoe presents the flag from the casket of former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., during burial services at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in Arlington, Va.

Arlington, Virginia — Of all the celebrations of his life this past week, John Dingell would have loved this one best.

Under a breaking blue sky, with family and friends at graveside, the former Army second lieutenant was laid to rest among the nation's heroes Friday morning in a new section of Arlington National Cemetery. The famed statesman lies now near the fresh graves of two unknown Civil War soldiers, whose remains were recently discovered.

It's where he belongs. Dingell, the longest serving congressman in United States history, and one of its best, was first a soldier.

His patriotism, love of his country and passion for serving its people took shape during his military service at the end of World War II. 

Until age and illness bent his back, John had the classic bearing of a soldier, tall, straight, purposeful. He shook your hand firmly, looked you in the eye, called you sir.

Throughout his life he was a student of military history. The den of his Dearborn home is crowded with books about famous soldiers and battles, stacked around his easy chair in pillars three-feet high. 

When he became bedridden, the books moved to the bedroom, where John kept reading and studying. The last time I visited, the night before he died on Feb. 7, the stack was topped by an account of the South Pacific battle of Peleliu in the fall of 1944, and he'd tucked a tissue between the pages to mark his place.

John hung on to his old analog television set because it had a built-in VHS player, making it easier for him to watch the militarily documentaries he collected.

A bugler plays taps during the funeral service for former Rep. John Dingell (at Arlington National Cemetery Friday in Arlington, Virginia. Rep. Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, representing Michigan's 12th, 15th and 16th districts between 1955 and 2015, passed away on Feb 7, 2019 at the age of 92.

Arlington was one of his favorite places in Washington. His piece of the cemetery is in Section 81.  

The Friday morning service was poignant, and simple, appropriate for a man who had little use for being puffed up. 

His wife, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, son Christopher and other family members sat before the casket while the honor guard folded the American flag into a crisp triangle and presented it to the widow. An officer said a prayer, and some brief words about John's service to his country. And then the 21-gun salute.

John loved the sound of gunfire, and I had to believe the retort of the rifles stirred him.

Just as the ceremony was ending, a flock of geese flew noisily overhead, as if to pay tribute to the hunter with whom they'd done battle for so long. I can't think of a better send-off.

Rest in peace, John Dingell. You surely deserve it.

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