By LAMA HASAN
In a solemn and befitting ceremony, the town that became known for mourning the country’s troops will no longer remember the dead. Instead, the bodies of fallen soldiers will now be taken to RAF Brize Norton, a Royal Air Force base located in Oxfordshire.
For the past four years, the residents of Wootton Bassett, thousands of them, lined the streets, with dignity, bowing their heads, honoring the fallen. They remembered the servicemen and women, 345 of them, who were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What began as an impromptu act quickly grew to a time-honored tradition to those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty, capturing attention around the world. It also contrasted with the more remote scene in the U.S. where troops return to the airbase in Dover, Del., and usually is kept private.
Britain’s mantle will be now handed to the people of the town of Carterton, close to Brize Norton. The first repatriation, for a Royal Marine killed Tuesday while serving in Afghanistan with the 42 Commando, is expected to take place next week.
President Obama weighed in on what the town has done to Britain Prime Minister David Cameron during his first visit to the U.S., saying the tributes marked, ”the best of British character.”
For every death, for every coffin that was draped in the Union flag and paraded down the main street of the small town of Wootton Bassett, residents in the town stood in silence as the hearse moved through the town.
The repatriation flag will be lowered for the final time tonight, blessed and then laid on the altar of the town’s church.
The town’s mayor, Paul Heaphy, who will preside over the ceremony, noted, “We felt it was appropriate to mark the passing of responsibility from Wootton Bassett to Oxfordshire and we felt it would be wrong not to recognize what has happened over the last number of years.”
Heaphy went on to say that ”we’ve had requests from the community to pull something together so we have created this ceremony which hopefully people will feel fitting.”
Cameron thanked the residents of Wootton Bassett for paying tribute to those who lost their lives serving their country saying, “My message to the people of Wootton Bassett is a really big, heartfelt thank you on behalf of the government and the whole country.”
Cameron said the town’s residents “have done our country proud with the respect and admiration and passion they have shown for our Armed Forces and those who have tragically fallen in battle in Afghanistan and elsewhere…I think it is thoroughly deserved, although it is not something the people of Wootton Bassett ever asked for. They are very public-spirited people.”
To honor that very spirit, its people, and everything they have done, the queen has ordered the town’s name to be changed to “Royal Wootton Bassett.”