Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day: Honoring America’s Heroes

While in Washington, DC, for the Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum, my grandson and I visited Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. The only other time I was there was with Jim more than twenty years ago. My recent visit brought back memories of the prior visit with my husband long before we knew anything about Alzheimer’s.

With more than 250,000 gravesites on 657 acres, Jim and I did what most reasonable people would do—took the bus tour so we wouldn’t miss the highlights. As it turned out, the highlight for Jim was Audie Murphy’s grave.

We were on the last bus tour of the day so we had to quickly visit each site and board the same bus. The bus stopped for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Everyone hustled past the Memorial Amphitheatre, except Jim. I hung back to see where he was headed.

“We’re going to miss the changing of the guard,” I said.

Jim stood in front of Audie Murphy’s plain grave marker videotaping. “This is what I wanted to see more than anything,” he said.

After several minutes, we walked toward the crowd and saw part of the ceremony. This incident stands out in my memory as an example of Jim’s unique view of life. He was a person more intrigued by a simple grave marker than by a ceremony. He appreciated the grace and beauty of endless rows of marble stones

“I would like to be buried here,” he said.

“That’s not a good idea,” I argued, “because I wouldn’t be able to visit your grave.”

He smiled and put his arm around me. It was just a passing thought and not something he dwelled on.

On Memorial Day, I will travel to the Missouri Veterans Cemetery which has the grace and beauty of Arlington on a much smaller scale. At 1:00 p.m., they will have a ceremony to honor our heroes buried there.

I knew Jim well enough to know that had he seen the Missouri Veterans Cemetery, he would have preferred it to Arlington. Jim’s ashes are in a niche in a columbarium which overlooks a small lake. While the ceremony goes on, I imagine that, in spirit, Jim will be fishing in the lake and pretty much ignoring the crowd, being his own person, doing his own thing.

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