Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ceremonial Guardsmen lay Lady Bird Johnson to rest

Representing the Air Force in one of the most humbling ways possible, two Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard were chosen to carry the casket of the former first lady, Mrs. Claudia “Lady Bird“ Johnson, after her death July 11.

Airmen 1st Class Joshua Malyemezian and Robert Cimino, pallbearers with the Honor Guard, were chosen as Air Force representatives for the funeral July 15 at the Johnson Family Cemetery in Stonewall, Texas.

After being informed that the former first lady had died, the Airmen flew to Texas July 12 to begin preparing for the funeral, along with honor guardsmen from the other military service branches.

“It was an amazing experience; I didn't really know who she was, but I could see by all the people lining the streets that she was a good person who was loved,“ said Airman Malyemezian. “And the fact that I could go home to Texas to help lay her to rest was an honor.“

To prepare for their duties, the Airmen trained alongside their sister service members every day until the funeral Sunday to ensure every routine was meticulously coordinated and the funeral carried out with every honor. In addition to the training, the Airmen carried the casket to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center July 12, to a small service at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library Friday, to the Riverbend Center in Austin for the funeral services and back to the library Saturday, then finally to the Johnson Family Cemetery.

“Being on the casket team was so special, the camaraderie between all the bearers in all the services brought us all together,“ said Airman Cimino. “We knew we had to work together as a team. And working with the police and Secret Service agents was amazing; they gave us a personal tour of the president's house and we had police escorts everywhere we went to carry the casket.“

To be chosen to represent the Air Force during the first lady's funeral, the bearers had to display outstanding merit and ability in their performance, according to Capt. Derek Ketelsen, Air Force Honor Guard director of operations. “They were chosen by their leadership because they stood above their peers,“ he said.

This is the second funeral this year in which the Honor Guard has buried a member of a presidential family. In January, Airmen were called on to represent the Air Force at former President Gerald Ford's funeral.