When I drive by a cemetery, I see the gravestones and immediately am filled with melancholy. There are so many, hundreds and thousands of them. New and ancient, small and massive, plain and ornate. They are the last act of love we do for our lost family member and we want it to be special and unique. The stones are inscribed with names, dates and phrases that represent our feelings or say something that we most remember about the one.
Last week I traveled across Nebraska to the Omaha National Cemetary for Veterans. It is a new cemetery. 236 acres were purchased in December, 2012, and the first burials started in September, 2016.
It is difficult to say what I was feeling when I first got out of the car and looked around. Quiet, solemn, green, a bright bountiful lush green. We have had an amazing amount of snow and rains this spring. The word empty came to my mine. There are so few headstones here, only a couple hundred. The information sheet say it will hold spaces for 112,000 veterans over the next 100 years. What an overwhelmingly sad thought. But for now it is almost empty. It could have been a park except there are only a few trees and no play ground equipment.
The few headstones are all the same. A whitish grey marble, placed in rows as if the soldiers below them are still standing at attention and marching forward. The font on each stone is the same on all the stones, linking them to a common cause. Only the alphabet varies. You know their name, their rank, the year he/she was placed on this earth and the year they left it. Some of the letters are scrambled, but I soon realize they tell of the soldiers heroic deeds. SS for Silver Star, BSM for Bronze Silver Medal, OLC for Oak Leaf Cluster. The OLC indicates this soldier received more than one of the same medal for bravery. Some soldiers had multiple clusters, once a hero, always and hero. And of course there is PH for Purple Heart recipients. Last there is a very short phrase to tell you something special about this soldier.
There are only 25 spaces to say what was amazing about this soldier, what their entire life was about, what family want others to know about their loved one. “At peace with God”, “Walks with God”, “Proud Soldier” were the most common phrases.
Only 25 spaces for families to express their feelings.
The cemetery is on the outskirts of Omaha, so there were no sounds of busy city traffic. It was a Sunday and my nephew and I came early. If he had not been with me I would have sat for hours on one of the benches by the columbaria and enjoyed the bright, warm sun, blue sky, the sounds of birds and the quiet, peaceful feeling of being close to my brother once again.
This was a journey I hoped I would not have to take for many years. Jim was nine years older then me. We have longevity in our genes, but I knew from my visit the year before that his days were numbered. Of course I was hoping that I was wrong. But the effects war was about to claim
This was my first visit to see Jim in his new home. His story is long and interesting and I will share it with you one day. I am very proud of him. He accomplished much in his lifetime. And yes, he was a hero. For now I will just say,
It is the phrase his kids and I chose to have inscribed into the 25 spaces allowed to personalize the marble plaque that seals and protects his ashes.
I like to think that he is looking over us with that silly and special grin of his and he saying, “You done good, guys!”
Good-bye, for now, and ‘HAKUNA MATATA’, . . . . no worries!