by Anna Arnett
It’s been a long two weeks, and a longer, packed weekend. Strange. Happy. Sad. Filled with family and friends. Lonely. Above all, feeling grateful, especially that we did not rush.
As we planned for the funeral, there were a few things we all agreed on. One daughter was adamant that it had to be short. “Everybody gets antsy when a meeting goes too long. One hour is plenty for any funeral.” We all nodded.
Another agreed-upon guideline; ‘there will be no repetition.’ All the kids wanted to talk about their father, so they divided Charles’ life into seven different phases, one for each: early life, mission, military, courtship and marriage, parenting, famous quotes, and grandparenting. To make sure we didn’t go over, Marolyn asked everyone to write up a talk and submit it so she could tell that it would not last more than five minutes. Milan, our son-in-law, was chosen to ‘preach’ the plan of salvation.
I wanted all the family to sing four Primary songs, and chose “I Am a Child of God”, “I Will Follow God’s Plan”, “I Feel My Savior’s Love”, and “I Know My Father Lives.” Charles had long ago asked Camille to sing the song I wrote words, melody and chords to some thirty years ago but still have not written the accompaniment. I call it my Separation Song. The words go like this:
The time has come, my darling, when we have to part,
For pathways do not always coincide.
But though we’re separated, you will yet be in my heart,
For in special thoughts, you’re always at my side.
When duty calls just one to go, it almost seems the end
Of everything that makes our life worthwhile.
But through our faith in God, and our knowledge of His plan,
We’ll accept our new experiences, and maybe, even smile.
Life does not end, it just continues onward
Around a bend, that now obscures our view.
And passes forward, into light and sunshine
Where loved ones wait, as I will wait for you.
Lone will be the hours, when we are not together,
But through love’s labor, we’ll enrich our days.
For we are sealed together as a family
Through power divine, with faith to light our ways.
Love does not die because of separation,
But you and I will yet together be.
And through all time, through every generation,
Our love will grow, and live eternally,
Our love will surely grow, throughout eternity,.
“Okay, Mom, that’s too much, but if you want it . . .”
“Thanks. Also, I’d like to say a little, and then I would love to have President Hall say a few words. He’s such a special man, I think I see an aura around him. He won’t talk long.”
“Oh Mom !”
“And his counselor, President Laney. He’s been special to us ever since he and his wife took the parenting class we taught.”
“It will be too long!”
“Trust me. It will be all right.”
And it was. Here are a couple of quotes we’ve received since.
From David Udall: I don’t know when I have enjoyed a funeral more that your Dad’s last Saturday.
From Chris Baker in our ward: “It seems strange to say this, but we really enjoyed his funeral. We laughed, we cried—we were truly touched. We always thought he was perfect but to hear someone’s own children say they think he was perfect is really amazing. We enjoyed hearing all the stories your children told about their dad and his earlier life. I loved your analogy of “graduation day” and I think you’re right; he aced all his tests. The way Brother Arnett lived his life inspires me to be a better person.”
How long did it last? Well, right on two hours. But we all agreed it was just about perfect, even if we had never rehearsed the Primary songs.
The family luncheon was at our ward building, about a mile and a half from the stake building. When we walked into the cultural hall, I felt nearly blown away. The round tables and the serving table were beautifully decorated as if for a wedding reception. Truly a tribute above and beyond the call of duty.
Since the National Memorial Cemetery does not bury on weekends, we were privileged to have Easter between the funeral and burial. What a wonderful time to affirm my deepest feelings. I talked with the Primary children during sharing time (I’m Grandma Friendly) about death and the resurrection and how I know I will feel his body again, not as a china doll or a sculptured statue, but as the strong, vibrant, living man I’d married.
The older children seemed intrigued with the thought of four jet planes doing a flyby at the burial, and later a couple of single propeller-engine planes like Charles trained in.
And they did. There was also a semi-circle of men and women who came on motorcycles and stood in a semi-circle holding giant flags that waved gloriously in the breeze. Most of them asked what Charles had done to get the VIP treatment usually reserved for generals and war heroes. Paul told them he didn’t know. He had requested a flyby, was told only the Pentagon made that decision, and somehow, the request was granted. Charles never seemed to consider himself a hero. He just did whatever was asked of him, to the best of his ability.
Louann Thomas, Arizona State Captain of these Patriot Guard Riders said on their website,
“In 1944 a very young Charles Arnett was shot down. One of the crew died but Charles survived and was captured as a POW. In calculating the days after Charles "should have died" he lived an extra 22,912 days and he made every one of them count.
“Lt.Col. Charles Arnett (Ret) Stand Down Sir! Your mission accomplished with
great heart and spirit, you are a part of American history and reflect with
Honor The Greatest Generation. Your generation taught all of us how to move
forward and we will now carry your sword, your spirit forward with pride and
passion as you did thru your life. Thank YOU for loving this Country and
standing so proudly for Her. Thank You Sir for the life I have enjoyed as
an American. I am honored to stand for you now as you stood for all of US for so very long.”
At a 400-seat Harkins Theater in east Mesa Monday night our youngest son, Mark, showed his documentary “Baby Boomerang”, that he’s been working on for at least fourteen years, to a very appreciative crowd that filled every seat. It portrayed how he, a 'baby boomer', looked at the ‘greatest generation’ through the life of his father, who piloted a B-24 he named The Boomerang. I loved watching Mark and Charles tell the story, but regretted that I hadn’t lost forty pounds before Mark filmed my part.
After the showing, Mark said he had more than a dozen couples file by and tell him, “Your father sealed us.” It is for this, the perpetuation of eternal families, that Charles would like to be remembered.