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By Army Pfc. (by Colonel’s order) Andrew Guthrie (Ret.)
AFN Headquarters Newsroom 1960-’61
Frankfurt am Main Hoechst
Ninety-three-year-old Colonel Robert Cranston, the “Iconic” G.I. Broadcasting officer with more than a quarter of a century of service to this country, was laid to rest with full military honors on a green hillside, among many other fallen heroes, at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, on a beautiful, late fall morning, under a verdant blue sky, as a gentle breeze whispered through the still colorful, fall foliage.
The burial service was conducted by Army Chaplain Captain Matt Madison, a three-tour veteran of the fighting in Afghanistan, who briefly, but completely, summarized Colonel Cranston’s military career in the historic Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer, home of the Honor Guard, and immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. About 40 people attended the service at the chapel, including Sandra “Sandy” Cranston, the Colonel’s widow, her two adult children and two of the Colonel’s grandchildren.
There were nine people altogether in the family group. Outside the chapel, prior to the service, as the Honor Guard was doing its last minute drilling, Piper Gustav “Gus” Person played a variety of tunes to the left of the main entrance. Person, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Army, and a bagpiper with The Alexandria City Pipes and Drums, served in Berlin during his military career, and was a regular listener to AFN Berlin.
At least five former AFN broadcasters also attended the burial, including Kayo Mullen aka Jack McCarthy, who flew from Central Florida to be present at the service. Also in attendance were retired Navy Captain Maury Cagle, a former civilian AFN news editor, the current AFN Bulletin Board “co-webmistress,” Judy Boysha, who took time off from her federal Video Production Chief job, Shel Smith, who was hosting Kayo Mullen, and your reporter, retired Army Pvt. Andrew Guthrie
As people did not wear name tags, there may well have been a few former AFNers in the group who were not recognized.
In addition to family friends of the Cranston’s from Bedford County was a group of three or four retired officers from the SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) Officers Association Washington chapter, with whom Colonel Cranston served.
Following the short service in the chapel, the Chaplain led the procession of the urn carrying Colonel Cranston’s ashes out of the chapel, where the Third U. S. Army Band, “The Pershing’s Own,” played a salute as the urn was placed on the caisson for the procession to the cemetery. At Colonel Cranston’s request, the caisson was drawn by six white horses, and the traditional riderless horse, with upturned boots, led the procession to the burial side, about a quarter mile away.
The mourners were given time to return to their cars, and followed the caisson. At the burial site, Chaplain Madison again welcomed the mourners, and recited verses from the Bible dealing with death and everlasting life.
Then the U.S. Flag that draped the caisson was undraped fully by the honor guard over the casket, then, with crisp precision, was folded into the all-too-familiar neat triangle, and Chaplain Madison presented it to Mrs. Cranston with some whispered remarks.
This was followed by a volley of three shots fired by the Honor Guard, and then Taps, as the crowd and the troops, stood at attention, rendering the salute. Immediately following Taps, the Cemetery official declared the burial over, and the Piper then played the traditional Scottish funeral aire, “Flowers of the Forest” as the crowd remained standing. With the mourners then returning to their cars, the Piper played the stirring “Scotland the Brave.”
A reception was held after the burial at the Fort Myer Officer’s Club, with a wide selection of hors d’oeuvres, including delicious hot crab dip on French bread. There was punch for some, however many of the mourners elected to honor Colonel Cranston ‘s passing with a variety of single malt Scotch and other drinks.
The reception lasted at least an hour, during which Piper Person serenaded the group with more tunes on the bagpipe. Following the reception, the retired AFNers and the Cranston family group drove to Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own Pub in the historic downtown area of Alexandria, a city founded in the mid 1700s by Scottish merchants when it was the tobacco port for Northern Virginia, in sending that cash crop to smokers on the continent.
Those of age partook of several glasses of Glenlivet 16 year-old single malt, and the four AFN veterans told the Colonel’s grandchildren stories of their time at the Castle von Brunning in Hoechst and what life and broadcasting was like in the time they served under Colonel Cranston.
During the period prior to the service, your reporter passed out copies of Colonel Cranston’s obituaries to the Honor Guard and to the members of the unit attending the horses that would carry the caisson to the burial site. I also took the opportunity to tell one of the horses that he and his mates would be carrying a very special officer to his final resting site and that they should be proud. He may have understood me.
I can tell all of you that several sergeants and the Captain of one of the several Honor Guard components, himself a veteran of a tour in Afghanistan, told me that no one, of the many burial parties for months before this one, (Arlington does 30 funerals every day!) had ever taken the trouble to inform the Guardsmen of the background of the officer they were honoring. It occurred to me, that, as so many of us feel so deeply about Colonel Cranston, I did not want him to be, at his burial, yet another “anonymous” military officer, to them, but rather a man whose expansion of G. I. broadcasting had most likely been a part of their lives. And several of them thanked me for including them.
Mrs. Cranston, who is a real computer artist, produced a service program, with a color and black and white cover montage of Colonel Cranston’s life It was beautiful, and inside was a brief history of his accomplishments.
For your information, your reporter wore his ancient Guthrie tartan kilt, with the Pfc. stripes on the jacket that Colonel Cranston purchased for me on his 90th birthday, and four ribbons, about which the Colonel took the trouble to write to me, when I told him I never got a single medal at the end of my service. He even included a catalogue with each one circled!