McCrabb: Powerful military funeral is the ‘last thing of honor we can do for a veteran’

A caisson carries the remains of Maris McCrabb, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force during his funeral last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
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A caisson carries the remains of Maris McCrabb, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force during his funeral last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

After two days of sightseeing around Washington, D.C. that renewed a sense of patriotic pride, it was time to attend my cousin’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Even though his widow had emailed us a detailed itinerary of the day from Air Force officials, we didn’t know what to expect. This was our first burial at Arlington, rightfully called “our nation’s most sacred shrine” and “hallowed grounds.”

From the time we pulled through the iron gates until we drove away nearly two hours later, we couldn’t have been more impressed with how our cousin, Col. Maris “Buster” McCrabb, was honored for his 25-year career as a fighter and instructor pilot in the Air Force.

He graduated from Chaminade High School in Dayton in 1969, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Bowling Green State University in 1973, a master’s degree in business management from Troy State University in 1979, a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State in 1991, and a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama in 1995.

My cousin loved to learn and fly, maybe not in that order.

He died on April 28, 2019 and his funeral was delayed twice by the coronavirus pandemic. He was 67.

McCrabb, a F-4 and F-16 pilot, was a campaign planner for Desert Shield/Desert Storm where he earned a Bronze Star Medal on Nov. 6, 1991.

“He truly was an amazing man and I feel so blessed he chose me to share it with,” said Debbie McCrabb, his wife of 46 years.

We drove our cars a short distance from the Arlington parking lot until we saw a horse-drawn caisson, the Air Force military band and honor guard standing at attention on a nearby hill. My cousin’s cremated remains, stored in a wooden box with the Air Force logo on one side, were transferred to a compartment in the back of a coffin draped by an American flag.

The military saluted as civilians placed our right hands over our hearts.

We could walk behind the caisson, band and honor guard, but the pace would be 120 steps a minute, a military representative informed us. Or we could ride in our vehicles.

Most chose to walk.

I’ll never forget the sound of the freshly-polished shoes of the Airmen and the horse hooves smacking the pavement almost in unison or the way the seemingly endless rows of white crosses glistened from the morning sun.

We walked for about a half-mile until we reached a green tent with Arlington National Cemetery written on the side. There were a few rows of chairs reserved for immediate family. We stood in the back.

Chaplain Rick Beyea delivered the eulogy, and six Airmen, with great precision and respect, folded an American flag that later was presented to McCrabb’s widow. An Air Force officer, highly decorated and wearing white gloves, dropped to one knee and thanked Debbie for her husband’s service.

The Air Force band played “Taps,” there was a 21-gun salute and off in the distance a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

We walked up a grassy hill to where my cousin’s urn would be buried. His wife carried it, then passed it to Don McCrabb, Maris’ only surviving brother, then to his three daughters. One of them leaned over and kissed the top of the wooden box, her last sign of love toward her father.

Each person was handed a long-stemmed red rose and we placed them next to the urn. No words were spoken. The only sound came off in the distance. It was the Air Force band.

Later, it was noted that McCrabb was buried in Section 30, the same that holds the remains of President John F. Kennedy and President William Howard Taft from Ohio.

These type of military funerals are held daily throughout the U.S.

Mike Farmer, executive director of the Butler County Veterans Service Commission, said all veterans are eligible to be buried at Dayton National Cemetery, the closest National Cemetery. He said two active members of the military branch of the deceased will fold an American flag and present it to the next of kin.

The service will include the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute, typically performed by a military service organization, Farmer said.

There are large military gravesites at several private cemeteries in the area, including Butler County Memorial Park, Woodside and Rose Hill, he said.

Farmer was asked about the importance of a military funeral: “It’s the last thing of honor we can do for a veteran. The last benefit we have the privilege of presenting them.”

Doug Ledbetter, executive director of the Dayton National Cemetery, agreed.

“We get one opportunity to get it right,” he said. “One last chance to make an impression that may last a lifetime. We have the opportunity to honor our veterans in the right way. We get a lot of satisfaction with that. There is a sense of pride.”

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Col. Maris McCrabb, a Dayton native, served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. He flew F-4 and F-16 fighter jets. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Col. Maris McCrabb, a Dayton native, served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. He flew F-4 and F-16 fighter jets. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Caption
Col. Maris McCrabb, a Dayton native, served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. He flew F-4 and F-16 fighter jets. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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The remains of Maris McCrabb, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, are surrounded by red roses placed by his family. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

The remains of Maris McCrabb, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, are surrounded by red roses placed by his family. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
Caption
The remains of Maris McCrabb, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, are surrounded by red roses placed by his family. He was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

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Debbie McCrabb, whose husband Maris was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery, is presented a folded American flag. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

Debbie McCrabb, whose husband Maris was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery, is presented a folded American flag. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
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Debbie McCrabb, whose husband Maris was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery, is presented a folded American flag. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

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Members of the U.S. Air Force band stand at attention during the funeral for Maris McCrabb, a 25-year veteran who was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

Members of the U.S. Air Force band stand at attention during the funeral for Maris McCrabb, a 25-year veteran who was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF
Caption
Members of the U.S. Air Force band stand at attention during the funeral for Maris McCrabb, a 25-year veteran who was buried last week at Arlington National Cemetery. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

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