Local Veteran's View: National cemeteries are places to honor, pay respect
From the column: In Duluth, "The cemetery at Park Hill has a cannon in its small veterans cemetery that is pointed where it could have taken out the old Snow White grocery store on Woodland Avenue."
"Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay, but we can honor their sacrifice."
— Former President Barack Obama
The last time I visited a U.S. national cemetery was the Fort Snelling National Cemetery. I hitched a ride from historic Fort Snelling to the cemetery. It was a beautiful summer day as I wandered among the white tombstones. Each had the name of the veteran and when he or she died, either in combat or of old age, like my father, who chose to have a marker next to his son and, later, my mom. It was his right as a veteran.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, flat markers in granite, marble, and bronze and upright headstones in granite and marble are available. Bronze niche markers are also available to mark columbaria used for inurnment of cremated remains (as Fort Snelling National Cemetery has). The style chosen must be permitted by the officials in charge of the private cemetery where it will be placed.
Before Fort Snelling National Cemetery, I’ve been to many others, both foreign and in the U.S. The first I believe was a double whammy for me, at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, where it has a national cemetery as well as headstones on the battlefield marking where troopers from the 7th Cavalry died. There are no headstones for the various Native American tribes, who fled with their dead when another U.S. column arrived.
Every time I used to go to Washington, D.C., I made a point of visiting Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a vast field of white, granite, or marble headstones, along with grandiose monuments for the more notable soldiers who served, mainly generals dating back to the 1800s. During those trips, I’d also visit Civil War battlegrounds, with many having their own national cemeteries, like Gettysburg or Antietam.
In Europe, I’ve visited a number of U.S. national cemeteries, including some near Bastogne in Belgium. For whatever reason, these cemeteries use crosses or the Star of David for Jewish soldiers. I searched the VA website for an answer but found nothing.
Back in Duluth, most cemeteries have a small lot dedicated to veterans’ graves. I’ve been to those at Forest Hill and Park Hill cemeteries. The cemetery at Park Hill has a cannon in its small veterans cemetery that is pointed where it could have taken out the old Snow White grocery store on Woodland Avenue. I pointed out the trajectory to my wife and her eyes glazed over. Medal of Honor recipient Mike Colalillo is buried at Forest Hill, but not in its veteran site; his grave is farther down the hill. I’ve stopped by to pay my respects a few times.
Obviously, people go to national or local veterans cemeteries because they may have a loved one buried there. When I get the chance, I’ll visit my dad’s grave, along with his wife’s. Military spouses deserve the same recognition. But others, with no connection to a veteran, still visit the various national cemeteries out of interest or just to pay respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
As a veteran, I’ve walked among the tombstones of my comrades, who I will eventually share with them, hopefully not too soon.
Dave Boe is a writer, retired from the military, and mostly a man of leisure, who lives in Duluth. He can be reached at email@example.com . For more on veterans cemeteries, he suggests visiting va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility/burial-in-private-cemetery/ .