Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Grandpa: Military Honors Mermorial Service for Dr. John C. Kohlhaas {Texas Memorial Photography}

My past couple posts have focused on some pretty important people in my life - several of my most treasured friends.  I've shared images and offered glimpses into what makes each of them so special.  In the process, I've opened up a small part of my personal world to you.

This next post is no different.

So, I thank you in advance for allowing me to make another brief departure from my normal "photography" posts in order to share just a little more of my heart.

Today I want to introduce you to Dr. John Casper Kohlhaas and his wife Dr. Bernice Kohlhaas - my husband Steve's maternal grandparents.

Hands down these two individuals are the most influential people - second only to his own parents - in my husband's life.  Much of who he is today is due to their exceptional example.

My only regret is that I waited until after their deaths to tell you about them.

Last week we attended Grandpa's memorial service.  Laid to rest beside him (in the new Coastal Bend Texas State Veterans Cemetery) are the remains of his beloved wife, Dr. Bernice Kohlhaas, who passed away on Valentine's Day in 2011.

Grandpa's was a proper military funeral as he was a US Naval Captain in World War 2.  At his funeral he was honored one last time for his service to his country by those - who like him - faithfully served in the military.

The Honor Guard's motto is "Veterans Honoring Veterans".  What a wonderful gift they gave to Grandpa - and to our family - by taking part in his funeral service!

In a day when patriotism is diminishing and we are losing perspective on what exactly these brave soldiers fought for and stood for, I felt it was important to document the time-honored tradition of a military memorial service.

Following the images, I will share Grandpa and Grandma's story and tell you all about how important their life on this earth was - to our family, to his community, and most importantly to his family.

I share these images from Grandpa's memorial service with great respect and sincerity and with permission from the US Military Honors Memorial association. 

The Department of Defense defines military funeral honors as "the ceremonial paying of respect and the final demonstration of the country's gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our nation."  

Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible Veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony.  At the minimum a funeral honors detail consists of two members of the Armed Fores, at least one of which is a member of the veteran's own military service. (Congressional Research Service)

A military honors ceremony consists of the following:

The Playing of Taps by bugle.

The Three-volley Salute.


The tradition of the three-volley salute dates back to European dynastic wars, where the fighting and hostilities ceased so the dead and wounded could be removed from the battlefield.  The firing of three volleys by either side meant that their dead had been properly cared for and they were ready to resume battle. (Wikipedia)

 The Folding of the United States burial flag.


 The flag is folded into the shape of a bicorne hat, reminding Americans of the soldiers who served under General Washington, and the sailors and Marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones. (Wikipedia)


The Honor Memorial Speech is given upon presentation of the flag


This speech varies slightly for each branch of the military.  For the US Navy it is as follows:

"On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to this Country and a grateful Navy.  My condolences and God bless you."

Three bullets (one symbolizing each rifle volley) are tucked inside the folded flag symbolizing:




The Presenting of the United States burial flag to the next of kin.

When presented to the family, the stars on the flag point upwards, which remind Americans of their national motto, In God We Trust.  The flag is never to be opened or flown again.  (Wikipedia)


A final word and blessing by Grandpa and Grandma's Catholic priest.

The flag at the cemetery was flown at half mast in honor of Grandpa Kohlhaas.

Stephen and Alden pay their respects.

Prior to the graveside service a memorial service was held at Grandpa and Grandma's church.  The Order of the Alhambra, Baza Caravan #78 - of which Grandpa was a member - was present in honor of Grandpa's past involvement in their charitable organization.  Together they recited their motto to show their condolences to our family. 

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr

After the service, I met a nurse who had worked with Grandpa and Grandma at the hospital.  She told me that nurses were not permitted to perform certain procedures in those days.  She went on to say that Grandpa not only took her under his wings (an African American), but he also taught her how to perform many of the more difficult procedures that nurses weren't being trained to do.  She was proud to share with us that she was the very first nurse in that hospital to perform a catheterization!  Later, Grandpa was instrumental in her assignment to head nurse - where she served for many years.  She is retired now but continues to serve in the hospital as a volunteer.  She attended Grandpa's funeral along with her daughter to pay her respects to the kind and generous man who took the time to mentor her.

It was a small funeral, but it was touching to see those in attendance who came to pay their respects. 

May he rest in peace.   

- - - - - -

Grandpa and Grandma's story

- - - - - - 

My husband's grandfather was a captain in the US Navy.  He enrolled in the armed forces the day before Pearl Harbor and flew airplanes as a photographer for the US Navy during World War 2.  His brother, and only sibling, 2d LT. Tommy Kohlhaas of the US Air Corps, was killed in the war.  Tommy's plane was shot down into enemy territory.  He survived the landing only to be captured and killed by German farmers. (His story is told by Roger Stanley Johnson in the book Wounded Fortress.)

It was a devastating loss for Steve's grandfather and his family!

After the war, Grandpa returned and married his wartime sweetheart, Bernice Kennedy.  Both attended medical school together in Iowa - Grandpa getting in as an alternate.  Upon graduation they worked as anesthesiologists and settled in Corpus Christi where they worked together at Christus Spohn Hospital well into their 70s.  Grandma and Grandpa had four children: Janis, Kathryn (my husband's mother), Ann and John.  Sadly, their son John passed away an untimely death just a few years before his mother.  My husband and his sister were their only grandchildren.  Our children, Stephen and Alden, were their only two great-grandchildren.

Grandpa was very active in the community.  He was a founding member of the Confederate Air Force (now known as the Commemorative Air Force).  This Texas-based, non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving and showing historical aircraft at airshows.  The CAF believes it is important to keep these war-time planes flying as a reminder to everyone just how important the war had been.

Grandpa once owned several of these planes.  He would take my husband Steve and his dad flying from time to time when they visited.  Steve has fond memories of flying over Grandpa and Grandma's house while Grandma and the others waved at them from below.

Grandpa was also a Mr. Fix-it and avid collector and restorer of old war guns.  When I first started dating Steve, Grandpa would take us to the gun range during our holiday visits.  Grandpa and Steve spent a lot of time hanging out in Grandpa's workshop while they talked and worked on Grandma's latest "honey-do" project together.  Grandpa taught Steve everything he knew, and to this day my husband would rather fix it himself than hire out help - wherever possible.
What a gift to give your grandson!

Steve's grandmother, Bernice, was a fire-cracker tied up in a petite little body.  She was an avid antique collector and knew all sorts of facts about artwork and antiques that she passed along to her children and grandchildren.  Thanks to her influence on my husband, I wouldn't dare buy any furniture without Steve's seal of approval.  There's no way he would buy anything that didn't meet up to Grandma's standards of excellence.  Both Grandma and Grandpa taught him the value of investing in quality items that will stand the test of time, and he's held true to that teaching to this day.

Grandpa and Grandma also taught their family what it means to live a generous lifestyle.  They contributed to various charities and always took care of their own.  Steve once told me that his grandfather had advised him, "Never loan money to anyone unless you
are willing to consider it a gift from the start."  Grandpa felt you shouldn't loan money unless you were willing to part with it in the first place - as chances are you may never get paid back.  He taught Steve to give out of generosity and not to expect anything in return.

Wise man!

Steve's grandparents raised a family of hard workers who valued the importance of a good education.  Steve's mom Kathryn, his Aunt Janis, and his Aunt Ann all earned their doctorate degrees.  Steve and his sister are both engineers.  I think it's safe to say, it's quite likely our children will follow in their footsteps.

Like many families, they had their share of trouble.  No family is perfect!  But, through it all, Steve's grandparents held true to their convictions and loved their children deeply and unconditionally - no matter what life threw their way.  From their example I learned what it means to extend grace and forgiveness while allowing natural consequences to take their course.  I hope to maintain the same healthy boundaries with our own children.

In a nut-shell, Grandpa and Grandma were among the most giving, generous, wise, and down-to-earth people I've known!

And, since my own grandparents had long since passed away, they became very important to me as well.  My husband's family is very small.  Our own little family makes up 4 out of the 9 members in the entire extended family!  In light of this, we've made an effort to celebrate each and every Christmas together - especially as Grandpa and Grandma's health began to fade.

Over the past 15 years, I've whole-heartedly claimed Steve's Grandparents and his family as my own.  I loved them dearly and am so blessed to have known them and to be a part of their family!

When they both passed away, it left a big void in our hearts.  Both Grandma and Grandpa were remarkable individuals!  Their love and support of Steve and his sister Laura (their only grandchildren) was unconditional.  They passed along not only impeccable morals and ethical standards but also countless practical life skills and a hard work ethic.

Both lived a life of integrity that is now being carried on by their loved ones.

During the best man's toast at our wedding reception, Steve's friend Rustan used just one word to describe Steve.  That word was "integrity".

Without a doubt in my mind, Steve learned what it means for a modern day man to live a life of integrity and honesty by following in his grandfather's footsteps.

What a legacy!

Sure, there were times when Grandpa was a little rough around the edges.  He was a sailor, after all!  But at his very core he was a gentle man.  Tender-hearted.  Loyal.  Generous.  A teddy bear.  It was very evident that he had a soft spot for those he cared about - and for those who cared for him.  He wasn't always outwardly affectionate, and toward the end of his life he was a man of very few words, but it was clear to me we were very loved.

Take this story for example:

I'll never forget what happened the day Steve and I took Stephen Jr. and Alden to visit Grandpa at his nursing home to say our last "good-byes".  Grandpa was mostly motionless - not able to move much on his own at all.  We were happy if he was able to open his eyes.  But, by some small miracle, as my children reached in to give him a hug, he found the strength to reach out to them in return!!!

He attempted to kiss Alden - who as you can see was a bit nervous and shy.

 He reached his arms out to give Stephen Jr a big hug.

It was an incredible sight to see!

It was nothing short of a miracle!

I will cherish those moments forever!

Needless to say, I am beyond blessed to have captured his love for them through my lens (albeit blurry).  Some day Stephen and Alden may be too young to remember Grandpa and Grandma.  But, at least now we can show them these pictures.

They will never have to doubt how much they were loved and treasured!

They will KNOW!!!

In closing, I'll share another story from Grandpa's funeral.  An old friend and colleague of his referred to him as her "Pooh Bear".  I can tell he meant a lot to her.  After witnessing him just weeks earlier with my own children while on his death-bed, I have to agree.

"Pooh Bear" suits him perfectly!

He (and Grandma) will certainly be missed - and loved for all time!


  1. Dear Tammy & Family, My best friend Kay told me you had written this and I was lucky enough to find it here on the Internet. Of course when she told me about it there were tears in her eyes and she got choked up, because I know all your words mean so much to her. I also was very lucky to meet her father at the nursing home here in Katy. I remember the wreath on his door with airplanes on it so he could find his room faster. She was so proud to introduce me to her father that day. We have lots in common with my mother who is 93. Knowing and working with Kay and helping her these past couple of years I would definitely say her parents passed on many fine traits and especially the one of 'love of family'. My sincerest condolences, Jean M.

  2. Dear Jean,
    We have heard a lot about you and are forever en debuted to you f I r your faithful friendship and care over Steve's mom. We can tell you mean the world to her! She's blessed to have you in her life. Thank you f I r your kind words here on my blog today! Tammy


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