Cemetery Watchman

My friend Kevin and I volunteer at a national cemetery in Oklahoma. Today had been a long day, my hip was painful and all I wanted was to head down to Smokey’s and have a cold one. Sneaking a look at my watch, it was 16:55. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates closed for the day. Marine blues are hot in the August sun. Our Oklahoma summer was as bad as ever, with heat and humidity both too high.

I saw the car pull into the driveway, a ’69 or ’70 model Cadillac, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace. An old woman got out so slowly I thought she was paralyzed; she had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, four or five bunches as best as I could tell.

I couldn’t help myself. The thought came and left a slightly bitter taste: ‘She’s going to spend an hour, and my hip hurts and I’m ready to get out of here right now!’ But my duty was to assist anyone coming in.

Kevin would lock the in gate, and if I could hurry the old gal along, we might make it to Smokey’s in time.

I broke post attention. My hip made noises when I took the first step and pain went up a notch. I must have made a great military sight: middle-aged guy with a small gut and a limp, in Marine dress uniform which had lost its razor-sharp creases about thirty minutes after I began my watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint.

‘ Ma’am, may I assist you? ‘

‘ Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days. ‘

‘ My pleasure, ma’am. ‘ (It wasn’t too much of a lie.)

She looked at me again. ‘ Marine, where were you stationed? ‘

‘ Vietnam, ma’am, ’69 to ’70. ‘

She looked at me closer. ‘ Wounded, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can. ‘

I lied a little bigger: ‘ No hurry, ma’am. ‘

She smiled and winked at me. ‘ Son, I’m 85-years-old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time. ‘

‘ Yes, ma ‘am, at your service. ‘

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the flower bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918 .

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at another stone. I saw a tear tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone, it said Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943 .

She went up the row and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J.Wieserman, USMC, 1944 .

She paused for a second and more tears flowed.
‘ Two more, son, and we’ll be done ‘

I almost didn’t say anything, but, ‘ Yes, ma’am, take your time. ‘

She looked confused. ‘ Where’s the Vietnam section?
I seem to have lost my way. ‘

I pointed ‘ That way, ma’am. ‘

‘Oh!’ she chuckled quietly. ‘ Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly. ‘

She headed down the walk. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman, USMC, 1968 , and the last on Darrel Wieserman, USMC, 1970. She stood and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out and more tears flowed.

‘ OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home. ‘

‘Yes, ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk? ‘

‘ Yes, Donald Davidson was my father, Stephen was my uncle, Stanley was my husband, Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines. ‘

She stopped. Whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, and got in slowly and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin, waiting by his car.

‘ Get to the out gate quickly. There’s something I’ve got to do. ‘

Kevin started to say something, but saw the look I gave him. He got us down the service road fast. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

‘ Kevin, stand at attention next to the gate. Follow my lead. ‘ I humped it across the drive to the other side.

When the Cadillac came around the hedges and began the short turn toward the gate, I called out in my best Gunny’s voice: ‘TehenHut! Preeesent Haaaarms! ‘

I have to hand it to Kevin; he never blinked – stood at attention with a salute that would make any DI proud.

She drove through that gate with two old worn-out Marines giving her the send-off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing duty, honor and sacrifice far beyond the realm of most.

I am not sure but I think I saw a salute from the Cadillac.

As a final thought, let me share a small prayer: ‘Lord, keep our servicemen and women safe, whether they serve at home or overseas. Hold them in your loving hands and protect them as they protect us. ‘

Let’s all keep those currently serving and those who have gone before in our thoughts and prayers. They are the reason for the many freedoms we enjoy.