Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Honoring A Hero

My grandfather is buried at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, MI.  It is the National Cemetery for Veterans.  This land was bought in 2002, a ground breaking ceremony was held in 2005 and the first burial in 2005.  There are 544.3 acres which will be developed in phases over the next several decades.  When there you can see acres of green space since it is a fairly new cemetery.  It really is a beautiful place. 

They do burials Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM and they average ten burials per day.  That is mind blowing to me.  Ten veterans every day just in Michigan. . .

Due to all of the coordination that comes into play with a burial at the National Cemetery my grandfather's burial was on a separate day from his funeral.  The day of his burial was actually quite cold.  I took a photo of my weather app that day and it was 46 degrees in Holly, MI.  Pretty crazy for May!  Fortunately the rain held off until after the service was over and we were back in the limo on our way back when it started pouring!

When you enter the cemetery you drive down a long driveway know as The Avenue of Flags which has 100 flags lining the driveway.  It is really beautiful and my photo doesn't do it justice.  Gray days don't make for beautiful photos but the weather did seem appropriate for the mood.

The actual ceremony takes place in a designated area with a gazebo.  When we arrived everyone was ready and in place.  Since my grandfather served in both the Army and Air Force they had members from both branches there to be a part of the ceremony.

The folding of the flag has always fascinated me.  The ceremonial part of it is so special.  They fold it with such precision and accuracy.  It really is incredible.

Once the flag is folded the other members retreated to behind us and stood in formal positions for the remainder of the ceremony.  The man holding the flag (I apologize for not knowing his official title) stood at the food of the casket for the entire ceremony holding the flag.  The priest (who is a friend of Paul and Lee's) did a reading and lead us in a prayer.  He also say at the end of the prayer and when he did a song bird started singing along. It was such a special moment or what some might call a sign.

After the prayers were over the flag was brought to Lee's great-nephew, Ryan who is active Air Force.  He had the honor of presenting the flag to Lee.  I honestly don't know how he did it but he was so composed.  Just typing this makes me teary eyed.  It was such a special moment.

After that three guns were fired and then Taps was played on the trumpet.  Again super emotional.

Right before the priest finished he sprinkled holy water on the casket and laid his hand on it.  The funeral director told us that the hand print would remain on the casket and invited us all up to put our own hand print on it.  That way my grandfather could take us all with him. . .

Lee's hand (bottom of photo) and my brothers' hands (top of photo)

My hand (left) and my mom and dad's hands (right). 

Following the ceremony we got back into the limo and drove a short distance to his plot. We were allowed to get out of the limo and stand across the street to watch but they don't let you get closer since there is heavy machinery being used.  I don't know about any of you but I have never been to a burial where you actually see them put the casket into the ground. . . this was a first for my family.

Lee purchased a beautiful vault with a flag going across the top of it.  It also has my grandfather's name, date of birth and date of death on it.  I have more photos but I think I'll keep those private.  Like I said this was a first for us but there was something comforting in watching him be placed in his final resting place.  Additionally, I cannot say enough about the professionalism of the men doing the work.  Lee and I were able to walk over to view the vault (she hadn't seen it yet and she wanted me to take photos) and the men were so nice to us and handled the whole situation with such grace.

Again this may seem weird. . . taking family photos standing in the cemetery right after the burial but we wanted to get some and it was the last time we were all going to be together since two of my brothers were literally getting in their car to drive back home (yes they are crazy and drove instead of flying)!  So we stood in the grass and took photos.  And do you know what. . . I'm so glad we did.  It was freezing and we were sad and squinting but we were together.  It is so nice to have these and I'm sure my grandfather was smiling down on us. . .

I thought since a few weeks had passed I would be able to write these blog posts a bit easier than right after it all happen but I was wrong.  It is still hard to write and relive all the moments.  I'm so glad we have these photos and I know I will appreciate them even more as time goes on but right now they are hard to look at.

I'm sad that he is gone.  I'm sad that Lee lives so far from us and that we can't support her more as she grieves.  I'm sad he didn't make it until D-Day.

My mom and I will head back to MI for D-Day next week and we will honor him on that special day.  We will visit the cemetery again and hope that his headstone will be in. . . and then we will go see the Red Sox play the Tigers and enjoy ourselves just as he would want us to!

 Cheers Paul!  Love always, Jodi

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