Once Nathan Dennis White was a Scout who found a ladder to the attic on the stage at Church and loved to play hide-and-go- seek with his friends, and once he was late for seminary because he stopped to help a distressed motorist, and once he received a white envelope from the First Presidency calling him on a mission in Japan, but Thursday, April 24, 2003, Nathan, age 30 was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Lt. Nathan White was killed in action over Iraq April 2, 2003 when the F/A-18C Hornet he was piloting was hit by a U.S. Patriot Missile in a "friendly fire" accident.
For most of us, Arlington Cemetery is a place to visit on a trip to Washington D.C., to gaze at the endless rows of white markers and think for a moment about the heroic dead who offered their lives in the cause of freedom. It is an ennobling few moments, but only that, as we are drawn on to the next site of interest. Maybe the Lincoln Memorial or the Capitol.
We are grateful to these soldiers, but they may seem far away from our every day existence where things really hurt—people of another time, or another place, or another sphere of steadfastness and integrity
Yet, on this bright, clear Thursday morning in spring, it is impossible to be casual. All ideas that a soldier’s sacrifice in the cause of freedom is merely an abstraction, something that can be kept mentally safely distant, are removed, blown away by the pained faces of those who loved Nate.
His absence this morning is huge, because he is all they are thinking about. He is too much to lose. If this were a film or book, you’d denounce it as terrible for making the hero so handsome and winning, and then letting him die. This ending would be unacceptable. You’d demand a new edit, a rewrite.
Nate was the All-American boy whose presence filled the room when he entered. He was a story-teller who captivated his friends; their memories of him abound with his wit, his pranks, his honesty, his keen mind and abilities, his love.
You can see Nate’s love—you’d have to say adoration—for his wife Akiko, and his three children Courtney, Austin and Zach in their tears. At the memorial service held on the flight deck of the Kitty Hawk, a colleague said, “His wife, Akiko, and his three children meant everything to him. He kept pictures of his family in his desk, and sometimes I’d see him smile and put a little kiss on their foreheads.”
Nate’s friends and family gather at Arlingon’s chapel. White lilies and yellow chrysanthemums deck a gold cross on the altar, but the organist is playing “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Buring,” “A Poor, Wayfaring Man of Grief” and “Come, Come Ye Saints.” Nobody sings the words, but everyone can hear them, “And should we die before our journey’s through.”
Outside a naval band is prepared to play, an empty caisson is waiting, an escort platoon that will march ahead of the casket stands at crisp, disciplined attention. Inside, people are hearing the bare sketch of Nate’s life.
It seems the world should weep on this morning, but springtime in Washington brings flowering dogwoods and vibrant red tulips and a sky that’s deeply blue. The 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery roll and spread with brightness as the morning sun paints the edges of white markers. A sacredness hangs over all.