Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Memories—Memorials

Calvin pointing out the names of friends who died in Viet Nam

You’d have to be made of granite not to feel the reverence at the sacrifice of others as you seem their names on a wall or walk among thousands of graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

Abe, Grace, Calvin  Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (2009)

You’d have to have no conscience to not feel respect and admiration for the many soldiers who have taken care of us through the years.

Since I’m not made of granite and and have a conscience that’s why I want to be an Arlington Lady someday.  “Arlington Ladies” are a group of women who volunteer to make sure each funeral service in Arlington National Cemetery is attended. There are approximately thirty military funerals held a day at Arlington and an Arlington Lady attends each one. The group was formed when an officer in the Air Force and his wife attended an airman’s burial and saw that only a chaplain and an honor guard were present. It made them sad he had no one there representing him personally, so they formed their group so that no soldier would ever be buried alone. Each Arlington Lady volunteers at least one day a month and attends four or five funerals during that day—humidity, rain, snow, or shine. They dress elegantly, often wearing a hat and gloves, and stand off to the side. The Arlington Ladies aren’t there to mourn, but to honor and show respect. As one said, “It doesn’t matter whether we are burying a four-star general or a private, they all deserve to have someone say thank you at their grave.”

I would love to be an Arlington Lady. It would be an honor. And I can promise you Calvin would drive me to every funeral and wait in the wings until it was over since he can’t be an Arlington Lady.


But since I’m not an Arlington Lady, we played Bocce Ball today instead. Sadly, my teams never won. Then we grilled hamburgers and Ande read this beautiful piece to us at the dinner table.

The largest cemeteries, and in many respects those which evoke the most tender emotions, are honored as the resting places of men who died in the cauldron of conflict known as war while wearing the uniform of their country. One reflects on shattered dreams, unfulfilled hopes, grief-filled hearts, and lives cut short by the sharp scythe of war. Acres of neat white crosses in the cities of France and Belgium accentuate the terrible toll of World War I. Verdun, France, is in reality a gigantic cemetery. Each spring as farmers till the earth, they uncover a helmet here, a gun barrel there—grim reminders of the millions of men who literally soaked the soil with the blood of their lives.

A tour of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and other battlefields of the American Civil War marks that conflict where brother fought against brother. Some families lost farms, others possessions. One family lost all. Let me share with you that memorable letter which President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Lydia Bixby: “Dear Madam: “I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. “Yours very sincerely and respectfully, “Abraham Lincoln.”

A walk through Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu or the Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Manila reminds one that not all who died in World War II are buried in quiet fields of green. Many slipped beneath the waves of the oceans on which they sailed and on which they died. Among the thousands of servicemen killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor was a sailor by the name of William Ball, from Fredericksburg, Iowa. What distinguished him from so many others who died on that day in 1941 was not any special act of heroism, but the tragic chain of events his death set in motion at home.

When William’s boyhood buddies, the five Sullivan brothers from the nearby town of Waterloo, received word of his death, they marched out together to enlist in the navy. The Sullivans, who wished to avenge their friend, insisted that they remain together, and the navy granted their wish. On November 14, 1942, the cruiser on which the brothers served, the USS Juneau, was hit and sunk in a battle off Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Almost two months went by before Mrs. Thomas Sullivan received the news, which arrived not by the usual telegram but by special envoy: all five of her sons were reported missing in action in the South Pacific and presumed dead. Their bodies were never recovered.

One sentence only, spoken by one person only, provides a fitting epitaph: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is the clarion call of Christendom. The reality of the Resurrection provides to one and all the peace that surpasses understanding. It comforts those whose loved ones lie in Flanders fields or who perished in the depths of the sea or rest in tiny Santa Clara or peaceful Heber Valley. It is a universal truth.

As the least of His disciples, I declare my personal witness that death has been conquered, victory over the tomb has been won. May the words made sacred by Him who fulfilled them become actual knowledge to all. Remember them. Cherish them. Honor them. He is risen. ~President Thomas S. Monson

Thank you to the men and women and their families who who have made things so good for the rest of us.


Deanna/Mimi said...

Absolutely beautifully said. Very heartfelt and touching.

Becky said...

Thank you for such a touching tribute.

And thank you, to Abe and all the others who fight for freedom.


Thank you for sharing. What an incredible sacrafice. So many have given so much...they deserve our respect and love.

Derek-Jenny-Kaitlynd-Ethan-Dylan said...

It was an interesting feeling that came over me at Arlington.
I wished I could have set a flower at each grave. I wished I could visit each grave and spend a few moments to tell each of them how I appreciate them.

My words are not elegant enough to describe how grateful I am.

michelle said...

Beautiful. This reminds me of walking through the American cemetery at Normandy. There really aren't words.

The photo of Abe, Grace, and Calvin tugs at my heartstrings.

I hope you can be an Arlington Lady someday!