Memorial Day

“They seem to go on forever.”

The grave markers in any national cemetery seem to be endless. Row after row of white stone. They reflect the high cost of freedom, the high cost of war, and of those who answered the call of duty. The vast number of markers is also a reminder of the promise that is America. They represent the best of a nation, the greatness of a nation, willing to give so much.

It was early 1965. One of the kids at the grade school I attended had lost their dad in a far off place. Not many were aware of the simmering war in Vietnam, a war ready to explode. Though in the same grade, I did not know him. The death of the boy’s dad spread like wildfire through the school. “What do you say,” was the common refrain. Somehow, word had gotten back the third-grader said, “I hate America. They sent my dad to some faraway place to die.” A strong sentiment. Another boy, in the fifth or sixth grade said the unthinkable, “Perhaps it was good his dad died.” Being part of a military family also, the older boy was reprimanded by his parents for his insensitivity. The older boy’s dad, in uniform, and mom in her Sunday best, apologized to the school for their son’s callousness. “It is not part of the values he has been taught at home.”

The sentiment of the younger boy was understandable. Those who remained home during that war, or any other, probably may not fully appreciate the feeling. Inevitably, it would be said, “an ungrateful youngster who doesn’t realize how good he has it.” The grief and sudden shock, especially for children, is unfathomable.

War is brutal at best, savage at worst. Its perception is far different from the reality.  Perception is more of an intellectual understanding. The reality is its surreal nature – violence and tenderness, side-by-side. The emotions can range from unbridled rawness to the humorous.

This Memorial Day, do not remember the fallen because of heroism, sacrifice or duty. Remember them as ordinary men and women, each with their own story and dreams. They are who made America. They are America.

May God bless them. May God bless America.

National Moment of Remembrance –

To remember and honor those who have fallen in service to the nation, the National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to observe one minute of silence at 3:00 pm local time.

About the photos

These photos were taken at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery near San Diego in June 2014 and June 2016.

 

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A Garden of Stone

I led my daughters on a quiet walk through the grounds of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma near San Diego. They were quite taken with the sweeping vistas overlooking the Pacific. Yet, the rows upon rows of white grave markers drew their focus. They are a stark reminder of those who are laid to rest here, from the Mexican-American War (1846) to Iraq and Afghanistan. You will also come across markers for wives and young children of military veterans who are interred here.

a misty, morning fog shrouds and softens the cemetery view
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (Jun 2015)

the morning fog lifts away, revealing the rows upon rows of markers
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (Jun 2015)

Walking for 45 minutes, we reached the graveside of my friends to visit and bring them fresh flowers. David and Cherie are both interred here. David was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. His much beloved wife, Cherie, passed away 11 months later. We also brought flowers for another friend, JR, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Though my daughters hadn’t met them, I spoke of my friends, describing to them the kind of men they were and what they believed in.

Afterwards, we met up with Amy, JR’s wife, and Jessica, their six year old daughter, near her husband’s grave. Amy was the balance in JR’s life, much like Cherie was the balance in David’s life. She was glad to finally meet the young women she heard so much about from Andrea. Forever devoted to their memory, Amy spoke of those closest to her. She has missed them so much the past few years. Cherie, her best friend. David, a friend who was much like a brother. JR, the balance in her life. However, there was no sadness in her voice or loneliness in her eyes. Time, and chasing after a little one, has eased the pain.

With Amy and Jessica, we continued our walk. At times in quiet, at times in hushed tones, but one of highest respect. Glance down a row, there are a countless stories waiting to be told. They are testimonies, not of heroism or sacrifice, but of everyday life.

like silent sentinels in formation
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (Jun 2014)

facing the Pacific and the promise of better days ahead
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery (Jun 2014)

While the vast number of markers is a reminder of the high cost of war, the high cost of freedom, it is also a reminder of the promise that is America. They represent the best of America, that so many were willing to answer the call. Every stone marker, every grave, faces the Pacific. They face the horizon and each sunset. It is not because of lost promises and lost dreams, but rather, it is about living for today and living for tomorrow and the days after.

On this Memorial Day, do not remember them because of heroism, sacrifice or duty. Remember them as individuals. They are who made America.

May God bless them. May God bless America.

 

Notes

“Garden of Stone” is a reference given to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It refers to the grave markers and monuments in the cemetery. Nearing its capacity, Arlington only accepts those killed in action and veterans who received the Medal of Honor, DSC/DFC/Navy Cross, and Silver Star.

Though officially at capacity, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery will only accept those who have been killed in action, or those who have a spouse buried there. Veterans and their spouses are now interred at Miramar National Cemetery, located in the northwest corner of MCAS Miramar in San Diego.

A Day of Remembrance

 

A special contributing post by Andrea Kanakredes, RN, MSN and Lauren Westin, MD.

 

“No one speaks of sacrifice. Coming home is all that matters.”

In 2004, there was a short news item in which a 12-year old girl decorated the long forgotten Civil War section of the local cemetery in her town, in her home state of Tennessee. The year before, she noticed the many small American flags in the other sections of the cemetery. The Civil War section had become overgrown with tall grass and was heavily shadowed by towering trees. She asked the cemetery caretaker who were buried there, noting she hadn’t seen anyone visiting that particular section. The caretaker had replied those buried there were mostly Union soldiers and a few Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. It was his guess there were no more family to come visit. Their friends, long gone as well. She asked if she could leave some flags and a few flowers for those buried there. The caretaker said sure. He would see the grass would be cut and the trees trimmed.

On the Sunday before Memorial Day, the 12-year old planted nearly 100 small American flags. For the Confederate soldiers, she also left a small Confederate flag with the American flag. She also left a single flower at each grave site. When asked why she did it, the girl replied it was sad that they were forgotten. No one is left to visit them, let alone remembered. They were someone’s son, brother, husband or uncle. They gave all so that we could become a better nation.

On the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson take time to honor the soldiers, from the post, who have fallen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the memorial, located at the Main Gate, a ceremony honors them. They also add the names of those who may have fallen in the past year. Sadly, seven names were added to the memorial this year.

The ceremony itself is a very moving experience. Your heart skips a beat, your breath taken away, when you hear the name of a soldier called, signifying their addition to the memorial.

 

Walking among the memorial stones, there is a sense of sadness. It is heightened when you see the mementoes left by the family and friends. The groundskeepers for the memorial carefully archive each memento, each letter, each photo left behind before they are stored away. Yet, there is a sense of thankfulness for the young men and women who gave so much. Their greatest desire was to come home, to be with their friends and family.

The greatest fear of any soldier is to be forgotten if they were to die on the battlefield. They hope there would be someone who will remember, who will stand vigil for them. But, in time, they know they will be another name on a forgotten memorial.

To our friends who died in Afghanistan four years ago and five years ago, we miss you greatly. We know your families miss you even more.

May God bless them. May God bless the United States.

xoxo

 

These photos were taken in June 2011. The memorial was commemorated in June 2004. Without fanfare, former President and Mrs. Bush have visited the memorial, taking time to study many of the names and offering silent prayers.

Remembering The Fallen

 

A special contributing post by Lauren Westin, MD and Andrea Kanakredes, RN, MSN

 

“It seems for all to become the same.”

Growing up in military families, David and I revere those who have served, especially those who served during time of war. It is not easy to leave the family. It is not easy for the family to let go. Worries and anxiety abounds. It weighs heavily on the mind. Occasionally, the weight and stress becomes so great, it causes the family to fracture across hidden fault lines. Fortunately, our families managed to navigate through the eddies and currents. We did not come apart.

Andrea’s family came on a different path. Her grandparents were immigrants from Greece. They understood the value of hard work, always for their family. Military service for their adopted land was considered a supreme privilege and honor. Andrea’s dad served during peacetime before Vietnam, and always had wished he could have done more. Certain wishes, however, aren’t always meant to be.

While the nature of war has changed in the past few years, one should not underestimate the toll it exacts. It is a brutal and grim business. Andrea and I would not want our daughters to see its face, or experience it, firsthand. My dad, David and his dad, have seen enough to last many lifetimes over. We are forever grateful they have not borne those sights, those burdens, into their daily lives. It is a testament to their strength.

In remembering the fallen on this day, it is said not to be saddened by the loss of father, son, or brother but to be grateful for them willing to give all. It is difficult to set aside the grief and loss. If there is any comfort, it is they were not alone and it was not in vain.

May God bless them. May God bless the United States of America.

 

xoxo

 

Memorial Day 2013

 

Two years ago, the official Vietnam Traveling Wall, “The Wall That Heals”, came to Ft. Carson, CO. It is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. Though I have not seen the Wall in Washington, the traveling version is as powerful and moving.

The three parts which make up the traveling display are the Wall replica, the traveling museum, and the information center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most poignant are the mementoes left by family members and friends …

 

 

 

 

 

this framed cross-stitch was left by a mom for her son

 

Each memento is collected and saved into the traveling museum. In the museum, you’ll find letters, drawings, dried flowers, photos, and other items that were left. Also, the museum includes photos of those who died during the war, putting a face and short biography to a name on the Wall. While many of the faces are young, there are many faces of older, career military servicemembers. The information center, which travels with the Wall, has the name of each servicemember who was killed in the war. The center allows a family member or friend to find the exact location of each name listed on the Wall. The docents that travel along help find a name in their books and on the Wall, in addition to providing information about the Wall.

For more information on the official Vietnam Traveling Wall, please read here.

 

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My dad served in Vietnam, near the end of his military career, in 1967-68. He doesn’t talk much about those experiences. Like many, it is not his sense to talk about, or share, them. When he does talk about those experiences, it’s time to listen. When the traveling wall came to Ft. Carson, it was an opportunity to see. Also, I brought along my daughters, Deborah and Elizabeth, to give them the opportunity to experience it. For my girls, it was a very powerful and emotional experience, bringing to life history outside the filter of media and analysis.

 

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There are several other groups that have replicas of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, which include the following:

Regardless of which group’s traveling replica that is seen, take the opportunity to see if they travel to your town or city.