Friday, May 27, 2011

A Trip to Fort Snelling

Once a year, around the time of the Memorial Day holiday, my sister and I drive to Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota to place flowers on my Mother's grave. Thursday was the day and my sister's daughter came with us. We used to take my father with us but he is 92 years old and no longer able to make the trip from Mankato.

 It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and blue sky. My mother is buried there because my father is veteran. When he dies his casket will be placed on top of her casket in the same burial plot. His name, rank and dates of birth and death will be one side of the headstone and her name will be on the other. For now, only one side of the headstone is engraved with her name.

The cemetery is filled with people this time of year - young people, middle aged people, old people, and children. We all have something in common. We come to honor a loved one who was either a veteran or was married to a veteran. My father served in the Army as a Captain during World War II and has earned the right to be buried at the national cemetery. It is very important to him that he be buried at Fort Snelling. It was important to him that my mother was buried there when she died in 1983.

Those of us who come to honor our loved ones place flowers and flags at the headstone of our beloved mother, father, wife, husband, brother, sister, son or daughter. We are all reflective in our thoughts. We may laugh and tell stories or reflect on a special memory or two. Some have a picnic at the grave site of their loved one. Some stand silently or sit touching the headstone. Some weep softly.

Today as I was walking away from my mother's grave, I watched a man painstakingly unwrap two flags and place them on either side of one of the white marble headstones. He stood there before the headstone for a moment, head bowed. Then he smartly saluted, drank a toast and silently turned and walked away. Honor, love, and respect for someone obviously very dear to him. I just witnessed a very personal and lonely moment in that man's life and my heart ached for him.

Fort Snelling is an awe inspiring, reflective place. It is especially awe inspiring this time of year. United States flags are flying everywhere and line the streets of the cemetery. There are acres and acres of white marble headstones lined perfectly straight, row upon row. This is but one national cemetery in this country. To contemplate the multitude of men and women who have served their country and given their lives so we can live free is overwhelming. On Memorial Day, there will be a celebration and the cemetery will be filled to overflowing with people and cars.

I like to go to Fort Snelling before the big celebration on Memorial Day. It is a peaceful, private time. A trip to Fort Snelling - a bittersweet but yet heart filled visit filled with love for a mother I miss dearly and gratitude for the many men and women who bravely served our country.