As mentioned in a previous post, for the past few years I have participated in Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), where my father is buried. The project honors our veterans buried in cemeteries throughout our country during the holiday season. On a December Saturday each year wreaths are placed on each headstone except those of the deceased who are of non-Christian faiths.
This year, the event was held on December 19. Unfortunately, the weather around my home made it impossible for me to get to Arlington Cemetery. The roads were so icy that I could not get down my driveway without losing control. Trust me, I tried.
Undeterred, I arrived at ANC on Monday morning at 8:00am instead. I decided to make sure that the graves on my growing list were so honored even though I hadn't been there to place them myself.
The day was cold and windy, but quiet and beautiful. As opposed to the previous Saturday--when tens of thousands of volunteers filled the cemetery--the place was almost empty and smelled of pine from the wreaths, which I had never noticed before. Because ANC was so empty, I had an opportunity to capture photographs that suggest the magnitude of heroism and sacrifice that rests in peace there.
The wind had picked up on Sunday and many of the wreaths had been blown over. During my time there, I decided that I would pick up every fallen wreath I saw and re-place it. Well, that quickly became a goal that I couldn't achieve. There were just too many, but I did the best I could. I wish I could have done more.
I spent about three hours trekking throughout the cemetery to find the graves of family, friends and their loved ones. It was a solemn journey and one that I take with all humility. ANC is a big place, and I'm sure I walked a few miles in the process, but I didn't tire until I located the last one.
The newer sections of the cemetery are very carefully laid out in an orderly way. In other words, you can guess where one grave will be based on the number of the grave you're standing near. In some older parts of ANC the consistency is absent. I'm not sure exactly why that is true, but I can guess that it has something to do with the terrain as well as what was going on in the world at the time of those burials.
About a week before I visited ANC, I was contacted by the aunt of Lt. Clinton R. Wermers who had read my post, but couldn't visit the cemetery herself. She asked me to find his grave, which I gladly did. I never met this young man or his aunt, but honoring him for a few minutes and making sure his wreath was in place, well, that was the least I could do.
I will be back again next year. As I said before, if you read this and have a loved one buried in the cemetery please let me know. I will consider it my honor to stop by their grave, say a kind word, make sure the wreath is in place, and pat the top of the marker. That's my way, and I'm honored to do it.