Going to the cemetery on Memorial Day

I’ve been uselessly standing around while The Hubs and his dad built a deck on their house this week (blog post forthcoming), but today was Memorial Day and, prior to eating our hot dogs and sugar cookies, we took a drive down to the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies to visit my dad.

My dad died from cancer in 2007 which, around that time, they had just recently (?) opened the National Cemetery here in Western Pennsylvania.  He died on the coldest day of the year and the second coldest day of the year was the day we had his funeral.  The cemetery is on a hill and, even today, it was cold and windy.  In February 2007, it was icy, cold, and windy and we were under a makeshift tent on a hill (since there were no buildings yet) and subzero temperatures.  I remember turning to my cousin, Shelby, and saying, “I wore a thong today and would kill for an extra few millimeters of fabric.”

“Me too,” she said.

Her dad, my uncle, died six months later.  He was a paramedic/fire fighter and had a heart attack after fighting a structure fire.  He had spent four years in the Army when he was young.

We’re a sarcastic, humorous crew of weirdos in my family.  I think funerals bring out the best in us, because we usually heal with humor.  I remember sitting at the graveside, shortly before they played “Taps” and did the 21 gun salute for my dad.  His best friend was a Russian Orthodox priest and he sealed the casket with holy water, which froze as soon as it was on the top.  He was saying a prayer in Russian and I remember thinking, “Man, Dad would love this.”

stoneSo, today we went back.  The cemetery was bustling, lots of people placing flowers at grave sites or just walking down the hillside taking everything in.  It looks different now, with buildings and mausoleums and a whole section for urns.  We found my dad pretty easily.  I always look around at his neighbors, a few who served in Korea and several Vietnam vets.  There’s a man a few stones down who was only a few years older than me when he was killed in Iraq.  The boys put flowers next to “Grandpa’s Stone” and we took a few pictures.

And it was sad.

Memorial Day should be sad.  Today’s the day that we barbecue and eat cookies and are happy we’re not at work.  And that’s fine.  But there’s more to it.  There are people like my dad, who died from cancer far too young or my Uncle Mike who had a heart attack.  There’s old men like my Grandpa Hanway, who was a WWII vet and died at age 93 or my Grandpa Hambel who served in the Air Force during Korea.  Then, there are guys like my friend Jordan Chrobot, who died in Afghanistan in 2009.  “All gave some, but some gave all.”  Today we remember the fallen, the people who lost their lives on lonely fields in Pennsylvania, or on beaches in Normandy, or in the deserts of the Middle East.  It’s okay to be sad.  We should be sad.  They’re the ones who stared death in the face and chose to march forward anyway.  Today, more than any other day, we remember them.

I’ll always be happy that mine was one of the ones who came home.  The Hubs was overseas in Kosovo in 2004, which when you Kosovothink about it, isn’t all that long after that war ended.  My father-in-law served with the US Navy in Afghanistan.  My brother-in-law was in the Army.  My cousin Ryan is in the Air Force, his brother Mark was in the Air Force.  The Hubs’ uncle was in the Marines.  My great-grandfather was in WWI and was injured by machine gun fire.  The Hubs’ ancestor, Jacob Bowser, fought in the Civil War and died in a field hospital.  My dad was a chaplain in the Army for over twenty years.  I think of them all a lot, but today more than normal.  Love you, Dad.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

–John McCrae




  1. So very, very beautiful. So unspeakably beautiful. As I told the parish yesterday, “tell them that we miss them … tell them how grateful you are for their sacrifice. They WILL hear you … guaranteed.”

  2. Heather, I loved this post. Just having lost my WWII dad a few years ago, I wore his Army Air Corps wings to the church service on Memorial Day. So glad you are reading my blog, now I’ll follow yours!

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