Cemetery, Regulations

Arlington Cemetery Part 3: A personal story

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Paul B. Attridge
1913 – 1999

When I researched and wrote a story about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg being buried at Arlington National Cemetery little did I know it would lead to a Three-part series with Funeral Director Daily.  However, the story triggered some memories in my life on what I knew about Arlington and, in today’s article, how I as a small town funeral director personally arranged burials there.  I hope I’m not boring you with these stories.

As a small town funeral director, in my 35 years in that capacity I arranged only two burials at Arlington.  Both were memorable. . . .one was for a young soldier and his parents were who I made arrangements with.  Making arrangements with family members is the way it usually is done and that service was no exception.

The other burial I arranged at Arlington was a little different.  It was for my former music teacher in junior high school who had no living relatives to help with the arrangements.  Paul B. Attridge was described in a former student’s blog, which you can read here, as such:

“Born May 11, 1913 in Pepperell, Massachusetts, Paul had joined the US Navy in the summer of 1932 and by 1939 had earned a chair in the prestigious Navy Band. For the next 23 years, he played for presidents and foreign dignitaries. He toured America, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and performed during the weekly concerts at the US Capital.

And whenever he was needed, he played taps for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. “

Mr. Attridge came to our community in retirement and unfortunately, as I remember it,  his wife and child had preceded him in death.  He taught junior high music in our local school system and I knew him as he was a friend of my parents.  And, he not only played in the Navy Band, he was the director. . . and told me he served at the White House through the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.

The U.S. Navy Band at Arlington Cemetery

My Arlington Cemetery experience with Mr. Attridge started like this.  I received a call at the funeral home one day in the mid 1990’s and Mr. Attridge was on the other end of it, “Tommy,” he said, “I need you to come up and see me about my funeral arrangements.”  Mr. Attridge went on to tell me that he was in an assisted living environment and could not come to the funeral home.

I got my materials and went up to see him thinking about another pre-arrangement in the books.  When I got there and we started talking he said to me, “I’m concerned about my burial at Arlington National.”  When pressed he had let me know that he was worried some services were being cut back.  He then said, “You need to assure me that a full Navy band will be there to play the Navy Hymn – “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

I remember telling him that I wasn’t so sure that I could do that  because Arlington had regulations and I had no idea if we could call out the Navy Band.  I remember his response, “We were there for people with a lot lower rank than I, and I expect the Navy Band to be there for me.”  That’s when he showed my all of his photos of what he had done in military music and where I learned he was the Director of the Navy Band.  I pledged to him I would check it out.

A couple of weeks later I was able to let him know that I had inquired about his military record and found a funeral home in the Washington, DC area that would help us carry out with his requests.  We financed what we had to in pre-arrangement form and went from there.

A member of the U.S. Navy Band performing Taps.

Well, Mr. Attridge died a couple of years later and I’m proud to say that his wishes went off like clockwork.  We had even planned in the pre-arrangement to finance a trip to DC for his executor to witness the burial. . . . .and she reported back to me that that attendance at Mr. Attridge’s military honors burial at Arlington included herself, a Navy pastor found by the DC funeral home, the DC funeral director, the military honor guard. . . . .  and the 40-piece Navy Band, clad in full dress Whites,  that played “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” prior to the honor guard presentation and playing of Taps.

When I think of Arlington National Cemetery, I often think of Mr. Attridge and his service to our country as well as my role in helping him carry out his wishes.  I’m thankful that I was able to help.

Related— One of the things I found fulfilling in my career was the result of working in a small community.  Teachers that had taught me in school continued to live in the area during retirement and I was honored to be the funeral director at their funerals.  One lighter moment, however, that I fondly remember. . . .and I was about 50 years old at the time, was when my 5th grade teacher’s wife passed away.

That teacher, when he came into the funeral home to make funeral arrangements with me responded by saying, “Tommy.  If I had known you would be the one to take care of my wife when she died, I would have made you get A’s instead of C’s!!”  I’m pretty sure that he was just joking with me!!  : )



 

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3 Comments

  1. Great story Tom!

  2. Tom – I love your stories. Isn’t that what makes our lives more interesting? Funeral directors & cemeterians are charged with the importance of every story! It’s how we can know each other and learn life’s lessons.

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