Day 65-SIP-Decoration Day

For the past few weeks I ‘ve had a compelling desire to visit my wive’s graves. I said it before and I will say it again today, I don’t see any point in visiting graves, but I did today. At least I can say I did something useful at Barb’s grave. I cleaned her gravestone from the grass that is trying to cover it. While I was there I cleaned my stone as well. At the time, I thought there would never be a reason not to be buried next to her, so I bought my gravestone to match hers. I also thought of it as saving the responsibility from my kids. It took me forty five minutes to complete the job. I stuck an American flag between the stones in honor of Memorial Day, said a final prayer and went to the next grave.

The next graves were that of John T, and Minnie Riley, the parents of my second wife Peggy. They are but a stones throw from Barbara in Holy Sepulcher cemetery while Peggy is nearly thirty miles further southwest. When Peg and I discussed our lives together after we decided to marry, we made special requests to be buried with our first spouses. Looking at things pragmatically, we both knew we would never be married to each other as long as we were to our first spouses, therefore, our forever-life on earth belonged to our first.

I did my thing, first saying a prayer for Peg and then speaking to her directly. When finished I encircled her stone to the other side and did the same for her first husband. I told him to look for me at the gate soon.

Memorial Day always evokes memories from my childhood. It was only a few years after WWII had ended and before Korea started. The country was mourning its losses of husbands, sons, lovers, friends killed in the war. My parents referred to the day as decoration day. It was the time when families went to cemeteries to spend time with their loved ones and to decorate their graves with flowers, wreaths, bouquets. My mother insisted we all go. I don’t think Dad could resist, although I never got the idea that he would. Mom always made him stop at the nursery across the road from the entrance to St. Mary’s Cemetery. She selected a floral pattern for my brother Joe’s grave and then bought the plants to make it.

At Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, where Peggy is buried with her veteran husband, American flags adorn the drive on both sides of the drive leading in. It is very picturesque indeed. I was mildly surprised at the number of people that were there. Most days when I visit her grave I am among only handful of people there. A funeral waited for escort to the burial chapel, and many vets on motorcycles sat on their bikes chatting. All throughout the cemetery between the rows of endless white grave stones were wives, daughters, and grandchildren placing floral bouquets and flags to their loved ones.

Getting into the cemetery on Memorial Day was not easy. Al the cemetery roads were parked with cars and the traffic within was bumper to bumper. Veterans in uniform carrying rifles marched throughout from grave to grave of their comrades lost in war. At the gravesite they would have a ceremony with the color-guard and the rifles giving a salute with volleys of smoky, noisy shots aimed into the sky. Saint Mary’s is a Catholic cemetery so there is a mass for the souls of the departed at 10:00 a.m. in the outdoor grotto. It was always well attended and crowded with standing room only. Not a safe COVID-19 assembly.

Normally, we left home about nine o’clock and we didn’t’t return until after three o’clock, all of us exhausted. Mom and Dad felt better that they had a chance to decorate their firstborn’s grave. Dad had a chance to visit a sister, and all of her kids, and they both visited graves of Hungarian friends from the neighborhood. It was a family oriented day, and I learned to despise it.

My wife Barbare was brought up to revere her dead relatives, She was just as paranoid about visiting graves as my mother. Maybe that is why they got along so well. Barb went to the cemetery often to clean graves and visit with her grandparents, aunts and uncles. She knew I disliked the process, so normally she did graves during the week with the kids. She had her own car, so transportation was never an issue. On the other hand, Peggy’s family was the opposite. Once a person was buried that was the end of the road for visitation except for major events. She and I only visited her husband’s grave a few times, and I only took her to see Barb’s gave once or twice. Each time we wound up looking her parent’s graves which she hadn’t visited for years.

I wonder what will happen to my grave once I am gone. Who will revere my grave enough to visit, and to clean, and to place flowers upon the stone?

On the drive home, I thought it is time for me to visit my parent’s, brother, grandfather, aunts, and graves and clean them up. The last time I did that it was because my young grandson Joey asked me to help him with his genealogy by visiting graves. He was about seven when that happened he is twenty-two now, and working. I’ll ask him if he is interested, if not, I’ll ask my brother if he can break out of his long-term-care house to go with me.

The Final Inspection


Gunnery Sgt. Shawn D. Angell is a drill instructor at the Officer Candidate School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., dedicated to training, educating, evaluating and screening the many candidates who go through the course and turning them into Marine leaders.

By Sgt. Joshua Helterbran

The Final Inspection

The soldier stood and faced his God
Which must always come to pass
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass

“Step foward now you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek,
And to my church have you been true?”

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
“No Lord, I guess I ain’t,
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can’t always be saints

“I’ve had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough
And sometimes I’ve been violent
Because the streets were awfully rough”

But I never took a penny,
That was’nt mine to keep
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills just got to steep,

And I never passed a cry for help
Although, at times I shook with fear
And sometimes, God forgive
I’ve wept unmanly tears

I know I don’t deserve a place
Among the people here
That never wanted me around
Except to calm there fears

If you have a place for me here O’ Lord
It needn’t be so grand
I’ve never expected, or had so much
But if you don’t I’ll understand”

There was a silence all around the throne
Where the Saints had often trod
As this soldier waited quietly
For the judgment from his God

“Step foward now you soldier,
You’ve borne your
burdens well
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell”

Memories of Memorial Day


When I was a ten, my parents visited the cemetery almost weekly. Their mission was to decorate my oldest brother Joe’s grave. Joe died when he was seven years old. The last Sunday in May was always special because it was so hard to get into the cemetery.  World War Two had ended just a few years earlier, and Saint Mary’s in Evergreen Park celebrated like most Catholic Cemeteries did, they had an outdoor mass. Most times Dad had to park outside the cemetery, and we had to walk to my brother’s grave. The place crawled with VFW and American Legion Honor Guards dressed in the uniforms of their service, Navy, Army, Marines, etc. Gun shots were heard for miles away, as each post honored its member at the gravesite with a seven-gun salute.

Mom and Dad never called this holiday Memorial Day, It was always Decoration Day. It was the day when people who had loved ones at Saint Mary’s came to clean off the winter grave blankets and to replace it with live flowers. Mom spent a few minutes at the local nursery studying the floral grave designs, picked one, and bought the plants. It just occurred to me that she never had a blue print for the design, but always planted the flowers exactly as she remembered them at the nursery display. It was my job to run back and forth with a watering can to get water for the new plants.The funny thing is that in her later years she couldn’t remember my name or who I was; time does that to us.

After Mom finished Joe’s grave she went to my Aunt’s next. Dad and Mom knelt at each grave they visited and said a prayer of remembrance

Decoration Day was always sunny and warm, usually one of the first good days of Spring. It made spending a day honoring the dead a sorrowful, but joyous occasion. By the time we left it was near lunch. Dad drove us home in the big Buick, and Mom made lunch. The rest of the day caught us lazing around on a full stomach watching the grass grow.

Decoration Day Remembered

Mom and Dad called it Decoration Day. As a kid I never missed a single Decoration Day at the cemetery. It was really Memorial Day, but Julie and Joe called it Decoration Day.  We never went there to honor a veteran or someone who died in the war, we went to decorate the grave of my oldest brother, Joe. Joe succumbed to scarlet fever back when that was a terrible disease. Today, people don’t even know what scarlet fever is. The fever took my brother at age seven and changed my mother’s life forever.

We always had trouble getting into the cemetery on Memorial Day. What, with a public outdoor Mass, the VFW, and American Legion honoring  veterans with gun salutes there were crowds of families remembering their fallen.

My sister, brother, and I were kids then, but the tributes left a lasting impression which has not left my memory since. Today, my cousin Sharon sent me this beautiful video tribute honoring our warrior veterans. This is no doubt the best and most honorable video I have ever watched.

2013 Memorial Day Tribute