Monday, May 26, 2008


Memorial Day was once called "Decoration Day." Loved ones gathered to decorate the graves of those who had fought for their country.

When I arrived at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena Saturday, someone had already been decorating the graves with small, identical American flags. A local veterans organization? Anyone know?

The soldier graves at Mountain View go back to the Civil War. The history contained in the place must be amazing. But this recent grave brought me to tears. It's not a blank stone; I photographed it from behind so as not to invade the family's privacy. This soldier's been in the ground three years. He was 22 when he died in Iraq.

When his family arrives at his grave today, they'll see that flag and know that others care. They won't know about my tears, but I hope they'll know that the loss of their "beloved son and brother"— as an individual and as a symbol of other individuals—is felt by other citizens of the world. Some of us feel he died for a cause. Some of us feel he died in vain. And in America, we still have a right to say so.

I live in California and my father, who was a Marine in World War II, is buried in Illinois. I hope someone decorated his grave with a flag today.


Bernie K. said...

"[L]et us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

That's the end of A. Lincoln's 2nd inaugural speech (March 4, 1865).

He delivered it on the steps of the Capitol building. Photographs show him as a slim, dark figure immersed in a sea of upturned faces. With a magnifying glass you can just spy, standing on a balcony above the president, his assassin, biding his time.

Lincoln lived another 42 days. The war survived him. Our current war will outlive our current administration. How many more stone angels will we carve and truck to these pathetic boneyards before we tire of this insanity?

Jim said...

My Grandfather is buried in Illinois, every year they would line the driveways of the cemetery with flags. My Grandmother drove us down there every Memorial Day, they would pass out flyers with the names of every veteran buried there, one flag for each veteran. My Grandma joined him there 10 years ago this month. I wonder if they still line the drive with flags, if they do, I wonder how many more are there?

I wonder if that young man had a wife and kids of his own?

Knoxville Girl said...

We have two national cemeteries in town for veterans. Just that fact breaks my heart. The local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops decorate the graves every year. I hope your dad has a flag. Members of my family have served in all branches of the armed forces, and I am also too far away to go very often.

Freefalling said...

All my words are gone.
Sometimes words just can't come.

David said...

When I was a Boy Scout our troop would march in a parade on Memorial Day each year that ended in Graceland Cemetery, one of the oldest and loveliest cemeteries in Chicago. There would be speeches and someone would recite the Gettysburg Address. My parents are buried in Graceland and I love going there.

One could say that Graceland is the Pere-Lachise of Chicago. Most of Chicago's most notable citizens are buried there; The Marshal Fields, Potter Palmers, Mies van der Rohe, and others. The tombs are works of art and the cemetary is meticulously maintained.

Petrea said...

Thank you, bernie k. Mr. Lincoln was more eloquent than you are, but I'm beginning to think he's one of the few.

I hope they still take the trouble, Jim. I'll bet they do. I think people care.

knoxville girl, at least a national cemetery isn't only for your local war dead. As I understand it, any soldier who has served their full commitment with honor can be buried in a national cemetery. There are 125 national cemeteries. The VA Website tells more.

Letty. You are a woman after my own heart.

I've never been to Chicago's Graceland, David, but I know where it is. A visit on my next trip is in order. What a strange tourist I am!

Thank you all so much for your comments.

Christie said...

Today I saw a plaque for a young man who died in Iraq in 2005. I'm sorry that his family lost him, but I hope that he felt his sacrifice was worth it. I know that the war in Iraq can be a issue that divides, but I hope today we can come together and honor those who have served their country with courage and devotion. To all those who have served and sacrificed, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

"War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace."—Thomas MMann

Petrea said...

Christie, I echo your thoughts and appreciate your comment.

I agree with the Thomas Mann quote, too.

We enjoyed a barbecue today at the home of friends; he's a Viet Nam vet. We honored those who didn't come home. We shared our gratitude for those who did.

Dina said...

Such a moving post today.
Nice to see a young tree planted next to the young soldier, alav hashalom (peace be on him).

USelaine said...

The most memorable classes I took in college were usually electives that just sounded interesting in the schedule description. One was from Watler Capps concerning the Vietnam War, through the Religious Studies department. His main focus was on how the unpopular conflict left those vets holding the nation's spiritual bag, so to speak, and that America's "unfinished war" still needed healing. If not, he predicted we would go to war again to try to reclaim a lost self-image as a salve for that sense of broken-ness. That was back in 1981-2, and he wrote a book about it. I was heartened to hear he was elected to Congress many years later, but heartbroken to hear he died in his first term. He could have brought such wisdom to today's circumstances, and would have been a tireless advocate for benefits to vets.

Chuck Pefley said...

A moving post today, Petrea. Your feelings are shared by many.

Musings said...

Hello there, Petrea... I'm very happy to meet you. Thank you for finding me through Dina and visiting. I'm thrilled that now I've found you. I've looked over your blog (not carefully because it's 3:55 AM and I'm rather groggy with insomnia) and LOVE it. You are a magnificent writer!
This posting is just beautiful. I'm wondering where in Illinois, your Dad is resting. In Hawaii, tiny leis are draped over each grave marker in Punch Bowl cemetery on the island of Oahu. I remember making plumeria leis to contribute when I was a child.

Rose said...

What a lovely choice of photo for the occasion, Petrea.

Lily Hydrangea said...

When my son was a cubscout they used to go out and decorate the service men and women's graves with tiny flags for memorial day. It was a very meaningful experience for them.
Petrea, please know that someone thought of your Dad yesterday and today.

Petrea said...

Peace be on him, Dina. On all. Thank you.

I looked up Walter Capps, uselaine. Wikipedia (the beginning, not the end of research) says "His name lives on in the Walter Capps Center for Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life at the University of California, Santa Barbara." So perhaps your wish comes true at UCSB, where he brings his wisdom to the students of today.

Thank you, Chuck. I'm always glad to see you.

Well, I'm glad to see all of you, let's face it!

Musings, thank you for your comment! (You shouldn't be up so late, young lady. Bet I know why.) My father is buried in the Afton Township cemetery outside of DeKalb. It's a quiet place, easily forgotten, which is why he chose it, I think.

Thank you, Rose. It's a simple one.

Lily Hydrangea, you and I thought of him, and others here (in a way, I asked you all to do so). We memorialized all the dads, young and old. My father (obviously) lived on after the war, one of the lucky ones. Still, I hope those boy scouts went out to Afton. Thanks for your thoughts.

Louis la Vache said...

"Louis" also hopes someone decorated your father's grave. If he was a Marine, that probably means he fought in the Pacific.

"Louis's" Memorial Day post is here and a related post here.