Thursday, August 30, 2012

Western North Carolina Veterans' Cemetery

The Western North Carolina Veterans' Cemetery is about a mile and a half from my new front door and something I pass every day on my commute to and from work. Over the three months I've lived here, it had become shocking to me how often I saw a new grave being dug or a funeral being served. But then I watched Ken Burns' documentary, The War last month and heard the statistic, "... one thousand WWII veterans die every day." At that point, all of those new graves made sense since those WWII veterans were probably pretty old by now. Unfortunately, what I was forgetting was that The War was released in 2007.   

Tonight, Alli and I slowly drove into the Veterans' Cemetery. I needed to see this somber place with more deliberate eyes than could be had in a car at 45 MPH. We inched along the concrete lanes that surrounded the rows of uniform white stones aligned in starkly straight lines and stretching much farther than I had originally thought along the base of the large mountain that seemed to be set there to watch over the dead. We read words and phrases like, USAF, Marines, Navy, Army, Beloved Husband & Father, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service, Medal of Honor, and even the much expected, WWII. The thing I was not expecting to see so often was the word, Vietnam.

I've been told more times than I care to hear, that my Dad died young. He was sixty years old when he died, and yes, that was too young. But yet here I stood in this cemetery and with the exception of just a few markers, almost every gravestone I walked amongst read the word, Vietnam, and included ages very close to my own father. What a sad thing to realize that many other families besides my own were losing their Dads and Husbands and Brothers and Sons. And what a sad thing to see it was happening so much and so often.

Some observations from our drive tonight...
  • Since we moved here June 1st, 2012, there have been twenty eight veterans buried in this cemetery.
  • Since January 1st, 2012, seventy nine veterans have died and been buried there.
  •  On August 12th, 2012 (my birthday), a veteran of WWII died and was buried in this cemetery. On August 16th, four days later, his wife who was a nurse in WWII, died and was buried beside her husband.
  • There were two WWII veterans, both 92 years old, who died the same day and were buried one day apart.
  • I found a grave marker for a woman younger than me who was a veteran of the Persian Gulf. That one hit me pretty hard.
  • Except the five I just mentioned, every gravestone of the seventy nine were all from the Vietnam War and almost all of those within a few years of age of my Dad.
  • The 2012 gravestones were spaced across the front lawn that filled the cemetery between the road and concrete single lane. At the curve of that lane stood a solitary tree. Hanging from its branches were an amazing array of windchimes. I tried counting them, but as the twilight slid behind the mountain it became hard to see them all. Despite not being able to verify it, at best I could make out in the fading light, there was a windchime for every 2012 deceased American Veteran.
The whole thing was humbling and awe-inspiring. I am honored to be an American as I pass this cemetery each day, and after tonight will be even more proud of that fact.


Blogger Adrienne said...

Thanks for your kind words earlier. :)

I read this briefly the other night, but got to reread it better tonight.

I've always had a fear and discomfort of cemeteries...but it was very common for the Riggs' side of my family to spend long amounts of times visiting and picnicking in cemeteries.

Everywhere my dad would travel he'd want to stop and check them out - when we went to Ireland together we visited (no picnics at least) a couple - it was actually really cool how much history and heritage you can gather just by walking around reading headstones!

Anyway. Thanks for the interesting read.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Swedish Mama said...

Did this once, don't know where it went.

Well shared.

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