Monday, March 23, 2015

Volunteer Duty at the National Cemetery

Kevin and I volunteered for Cemetery duty at our local National Cemetery here in Oklahoma on Memorial Day. Kevin is a member of our local American Legion and I am with the VFW post here in town.

We were lucky we drew a short shift from 3 PM to 7PM; however it turned out to be a longer time then I expected. Man, all I wanted to do was get the day over with and get back to the Post and have a few cold one. While at attention, I couldn’t help myself, I cheated and looked at my watch; I saw the time was 6:55 and thought my God just five more minutes and the cemetery gates will close and I am outta here. I felt just miserable in the sweltering heat wearing my full dress uniform.   

Just then a car pulled in the cemetery; it was an older model Cadillac – however it looked almost showroom new.  It drove in at a snail's pace and parked in front of the main building and an old lady got out.  God did she move slow; I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane in one hand and a big sheaf of flowers in the other - about four or five bunches as best I could tell.

I couldn't help myself. An unwanted thought flashed through my mind and left a bitter taste: 'This old broad is probably going to spend an hour here and I'm ready to get back to the Post for a few beers.' Unfortunately, I volunteered for this duty and now it was my job was to escort or assist anyone coming into the cemetery – regardless of the time.

I knew Kevin would lock the 'In' gate promptly at 7PM and I was pretty sure, if I could hurry up this old biddy up we could make it to the Post by 7:30.  I broke attention and my hip made those God awful gritty noises as I took my first few steps - the pain shot up my spine.

I must have looked like a real military sight - a middle-aged man with a noticeable pot gut, limping and wearing a full-dress uniform, which had lost its razor crease about thirty minutes after arriving on duty at 3 in this terrible August heat.

I walked over to the old lady and she looked up at me with her old woman's squint.  'Ma'am, may I assist you in any way?'  She did not take long to answer.  'Yes, son - carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.'  'My pleasure, ma'am.' I replied {it was a lie}.

She looked at me again and asked 'Son where were you stationed?'  'Vietnam, ma'am. Ground - pounder. '69 to '71.'  She looked at me closer. 'Wounded in action, I see. Well I'll try to be as quick as I can.'

I lied again, 'No hurry, ma'am.' Take your time. She smiled and said '
 Son, I'm 88-years-old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. So let's just get this done.’ As we walked she said ‘You know this might be the last time I ever make out here and can do this.  My name's Joanne Wieserman, and I've a few Marines I'd like to see one more time before I go just to say hello.'

'Yes, ma 'am - I am at your service.'

She headed for the World War I section and stopped at a grave stone. She pulled one of the flower bunches out of my arms and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn't quite make out; however 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, again stopping at one stone. This time I saw a tear slowly track its way down her cheek. She then grabbed another bunch of flowers and put it on that stone; the name on the stone was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She then went up a few rows, grabbed another bunch of flowers out of my arms and laid them on another stone. This time the stone read Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944.  At this stone she paused for a very long time and now several tears flowed.  Then she said 'Only two more, son, and then you will be done with me'.

I almost didn't say anything, but, somehow I managed to say 'Take your time Ma'am.'

She looked confused now and asked ' Where's the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way. ’I pointed with my chin; 'That way, ma'am.'  'Oh!' she chuckled quietly. 'Son, me and old age aren’t too friendly.'

She then headed down the walkway I'd pointed at and she stopped at a couple of stones before she found the one she wanted. She grabbed another bunch of flowers from my arms placed it on the stone of Larry Wieserman, USMC, 1968 where she just stood for about 5 minutes.  Then we walked to the last stone Darrel Wieserman, USMC, 1970.  She stood there murmuring words which I could not make out but I saw a noticeable stream of tears flow by this stone.

'OK, son, I'm finished. You can take me back to my car and you can go home now.'

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

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

I walked with her as she slowly and painfully made her way back to her car.  As she drove off I waited for a polite distance to come between us - then I double-timed it over to Kevin who was waiting in the running car with the air conditioner on.  I jumped in and said "let’s go - get to the 'Out' gate ASAP... there is something we have to do.'

Kevin started to say something, but when he saw the look I gave him he broke the rules and sped through the cemetery as fast as he could down the service road.  Thankfully we made it to the “Out’ gate before Mrs.Wieserman.  Her car was just now approaching the rotunda.

'Kevin" I said” walk with me and stand next to me at the gatepost and for God’s sake stand at attention - just follow my lead".  We humped it across the drive and when the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began heading toward the gate, I yelled 'Ten Hut! - - - Present Haaaarms!'

I have to hand it to Kevin; he never blinked an eye. Standing next to me in his dress uniform at attention his salute would have made any DI proud. 

Mrs. Wieserman drove through that gate that day with two old worn-out soldiers - members of a small town American Legion and VFW - giving her a special send-off - a send off she deserved and earned for the services she had rendered to her country and for knowing that duty, honor and sacrifices go far beyond the realm of what most people can phantom.

I’m not sure, but to this very day, I honestly believe I saw a salute returned from that old lady driving that Cadillac.

Forgive me if your computer screen just got blurry -- mine did to – it always does when I read this story.  I sincerely hope this story was worth sharing as because I firmly believe that we as a nation never forget those who have fallen before us. Feel free to do what you want with this story - delete it if you like; however my hope is you will take just a moment to share this great story with some friends or loved ones.  Eba Gee USAF - Retired {1968 - 1989}