Steve Lustig’s experience at Arlington National Cemetery, as he buried his father on the same week as his dad’s West Point roommate, and brother, were laid to rest, was a compelling, deeply moving and inspiring experience.
Lustig, 57, of Attleboro, a self-described “Army brat” who lived in 18 places in 16 years across the United States, agreed to elaborate on that experience for The Jewish Voice. We asked him what was going through his mind on the day of his father’s funeral, and what the experience meant to him. Here’s his response:
“I felt fairly normal from the time I drove to Arlington National Cemetery to the time I stepped off the shuttle where the Old Guard and caisson were waiting for us.
“Once the Old Guard started the ceremony, I felt my mind in suspension as I could do nothing but watch in awe the soldiers and horses move in a perfectly-synchronized orchestration. All soldiers were motionless until given specific commands, all soldier motions happened in perfect unison and constant rhythm.
“The soldiers were highly accomplished and well-trained.
I was very impressed. I felt every move was calculated and perfectly executed to express respect for my dad, the flag and the Army. Even though I knew the Old Guard had performed this ceremony countless times and the same for every soldier of every rank, I felt this was done specifically to honor and thank my dad and his family.
“The memorial was a very formal military ceremony, the soldiers’ faces remained intensely solemn and respectful, yet they were taking care of us and my father. The experience felt so much like my childhood. Ever since I could remember, the Army took care of my father and family. Only now I felt like this was closing a long life chapter.”
We also asked Lustig to discuss the logistics of the burials. Here’s his description of the day, Tuesday, Jan. 23, that his father, 82, was buried at Arlington. (His father’s West Point roommate, Walter “Walt” Rabe, 83, was buried the day before and his uncle, Shelly Lustig, 86, was buried the next day.)
“The memorials were held on consecutive days with identical, precise schedules on each of the three days. My immediate family and I arrived at the administration building at 9:30 a.m., spent some time greeting family and friends until 10 a.m., boarded a large shuttle bus to form a procession with the hearse and the cars of our family and friends, drove to meet the Old Guard and caisson (and) gathered near the hearse and caisson.
“There were four main parts to the memorial service: the Old Guard transferred the casket to the caisson, we formed a cavalcade to the gravesite, we held a graveside service, and we experienced the firing party and ‘Taps.’
“The cavalcade included dozens of the Old Guard soldiers marching to a single drum, the caisson with the rider-less horses, and the family and friends who followed behind. Once we all arrived at the gravesite, Rabbi David Kalender and Rabbi Evan Ravski led a traditional Jewish service. My two brothers and I spoke briefly about our father, his dedication to our country and our family memories.
“I remember remarking how fortunate we have been to experience my father’s life in the Army, how grateful I am to the Army, and that he is resting at Arlington in sight of the Pentagon where he worked, and beside both his close friend on one side and his brother on the other. My final words remarked that I was so very proud of him.
“At the end of the religious service, my immediate family members were allowed to cover the casket symbolically (with dirt). The Army provided a metal pail of dirt and a hand shovel. We took turns sprinkling the casket top. The rabbi closed the religious service, and the Old Guard executed the 21-gun salute (three rounds fired by each of seven soldiers) and the playing of ‘Taps.’
“During the entire service, eight soldiers of the Old Guard held the American flag over the grave; finally they ceremoniously folded the flag into a tightly wrapped triangle. The soldier who presented the flag knelt where my mom was sitting, looked her straight in the eyes, and expressed the gratitude of the president and the country for my father’s service.
“A member of the Army Arlington Ladies also gave condolences to my mom. As the last Old Guard soldier saluted my father and marched away, my father’s 1957 West Point classmates sang the West Point alma mater. We left the gravesite and convened at a brunch held at Spate Hall in Fort Myer, Arlington, Va.
“My father’s gravesite is 574 in section 8A. It’s on the southern end of Arlington National Cemetery near the intersection of Eisenhower Drive and Patton Drive, where you can easily see the U.S. Air Force Memorial, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and rolling hills of soldier graves.”
Lustig is the oldest of three brothers; Gary, the middle one, and Brian, the youngest, live in northern Virginia and Seattle, respectively.
He’s an associate professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University in Boston and moved to Attleboro last July with his wife, Nancy, a doctor at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative in Providence. They’ve been married 25 years and the now- empty-nesters have two daughters, Shoshanna and Rebecca.
Before moving to Attleboro, they lived in Landenberg, Pa., which is outside of Philadelphia, and worked in Delaware.
For more about Old Guard: www.oldguard.mdw.army.mil/specialty-platoons/caisson
For more about the Arlington Ladies: www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Funerals/About-Funerals/Arlington-Ladies
To view more photos, check out the Lustig family website made available by Arlington Media at http://my.anc.media/2H1GWvS.