Yesterday afternoon was one of those moments when American men and women of all races and backgrounds come together to pay tribute to a fellow comrade much loved, but no longer in our midst. It was one of those moments, when a crowd gathered to participate in the most human of endeavors, to reflect on a life well lived. It was one of those moments, when brothers put aside their differences to remember the legacy of one of their own. It was one of those moments, when I was especially proud to say, “I am a Mason, and I am an American.”
As I entered the hallowed ground of Pearl Harbor and walked through the rows of American flags, I boarded the USS Missouri, guarded by U.S. Navy sailors clad in their dress whites. Hundreds of other Naval sailors and officers gathered on the deck of the legendary battleship, accompanied by an equal number of friends, guests, and Masons. We had assembled to reflect, to remember, and to pray for a fellow serviceman and brother, who has passed on to the celestial lodge above.
Bro. Harold Estes (12/13/1914 – 5/17/2011) was born in Oklahoma, and at the age of 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on many ships and shore stations around the world. After retiring from service on June 15, 1955 as a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, he devoted the rest of his life to volunteerism. He stayed active with service to the Navy, while also contributing greatly to Rotary International and the Freemasons. He was instrumental in the success of the Honolulu Council of the Navy League of the United States and was responsible for making the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park and Battleship Missouri Memorial a reality at Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. Bro. Estes was promoted by ADM Gary Roughead in 2007 to the honorary rank of Pacific Fleet Command Master Chief, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas promoted him to the honorary rank of Admiral of the Texas Navy. Bro. Estes is remembered as a man devoted to cheerful service of others.
The Masons, clad in our dark suits and white aprons, took our seats toward the front of the audience, flanked by rows of sailors seated behind us. Then, alternating horn blasts resonated from the Naval ships docked on the other side of Pearl Harbor, signaling the beginning of the solemn event. The National Sojourners presented the colors, and we pledged our allegiance to the flag. Several dignitaries and close friends of Bro. Estes gave their eulogies, with moments of reflection supplemented with anecdotes of Bro. Estes’ devotion to selfless service to his community, his country, and his fellow brothers.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet Band Quintet preformed “America the Beautiful” – a song that never fails to conjure in my mind the scenes of the many places I’ve lived in this great country, from the shores of the Atlantic, to the gorges of upstate New york; from the rolling prairies of Oklahoma, to the golden mountains of Colorado. With this sonorous music, under the setting sun, ‘neath the Star-Spangled Banner waving, half-mast, I remembered my friends and brothers who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and shed a tear for all who have given the ultimate sacrifice, regardless of politics or religion. I silently asked myself this question, which First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt kept on a piece of paper in her pocket throughout World War II and is now inscribed on a plaque at the shore of Pearl Harbor:
Dear Lord, Lest I continue, My complacent way, Help me to remember, Somehow out there, A man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must, Ask and answer, Am I worth dying for?
Most Worshipful Monty Glover and Very Reverend John Connell took to the podium in ancient and proper Masonic form and delivered the most solemn eulogy of the evening, from time immemorial. By the evergreen sprig and the emblem of innocence of the lambskin apron, we bid farewell to a friend and a brother. He now challenges us to walk our journey with his same level of integrity and devotion to brotherly love, relief, and truth.
Bro. Stewart Cowan introduced the Masonic funeral rites and shared this poem, on behalf of Bro. Estes:
Miss me a little – but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared
Miss me – but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me – but let me go.
After the presentation of the Old Glory detail, a rifle salute, and the performance of echo taps, the ashes of Bro. Estes were escorted via the Change of the Watch ceremony. This sacred tradition of the U.S. Navy concluded the solemn commemoration.
As the sailors and Masons gathered on the deck of the USS Missouri for one last exchange of tradition and brotherly love, amid warm smiles and welcoming handshakes, a glorious double rainbow appeared over the harbor. It grew to become the brightest and most colorful rainbow I had ever seen, stretching in an unbroken semi-circle from one end of Pearl Harbor to the other. It faded only after the parking area was vacated and the guests had left the premises. Perhaps someone was smiling from on high?
Looking across the harbor one last time, at the tugboat standing watch over the Navy ships docked along the shore, I stood on the deck for a moment of silent reflection. The historical significance of that location was not lost amidst the tranquility of the scene. The characteristic smell of the ship’s quarters, the flag fluttering above where the USS Arizona still laid, the cool breeze, and the gentle ripples on the water served as a silent eulogy to a time long lost, but never forgotten. As with all things, the passing sand grains of the hourglass carries us from one moment to another, and even Mighty Mo is now at rest, to serve all those who may humbly reflect. At that moment, the spirit of friendship and camaraderie was fully manifested, and we departed underneath the watch of the colorful arc across the canopy of heaven.
So mote it be.
Brother Harold, I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet you. But those peaceful smiles, emotional tears, and heartfelt memories shared tonight by hundreds of your friends, from the youngest toddler to the eldest grandmother in the audience, spoke volumes about who you were – your integrity, fortitude, and compassion. I am happy that you have journeyed successfully on your road to home. We now humbly walk in your footsteps.
I salute you, my brother.
Local news article about the event, including video clip: