In my travels over the past week I took to an occasional diversion I sometimes make by visiting small and noteworthy cemeteries that come by once in a while. The two I visited recently presented two different perspectives on how we as a culture lay our loved ones to rest. Each of these have their own virtues and like most things in life one is not necessarily better or worse, but is so often according to the views of the beholder.
Here we find two of the same; different but not opposed.
Our first is a small town cemetery having many praiseworthy and loved persons within, all of whom were important to many. Not to foreshadow any in particular, but the site does present a truly unique memorial found nowhere else. Herein lies the only member of the United States Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor.
His name is Douglas Munro. He received a posthumous award for gallant and lifesaving service at Guadalcanal. A citation reads:
“On September 27, 1942 Coast Guard Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro was in charge of Landing Craft, evacuating 500 besieged marines from the beaches of Guadalcanal. Near the completion of the Mission, the few marines remaining on the beach were pinned down by Japanese Gunfire. Munro used his boat to cover the marines’ Escape. Mere minutes after the last marine was safe, Munro was fatally wounded.”
Douglas Munro lived in a small town near the present cemetery, his family preferring his interment to be near his hometown.
Further reading may be found HERE.
What I found especially remarkable in the devotion many in this town gave Douglas was the unwavering dedication a childhood friend gave to his memorial’s legacy. In an article from the Coast Guard Retiree Council Northwest Newsletter dated September 29, 1999 via WikiPedia, “For several decades, Munro’s boyhood friend Mike Cooley raised and lowered the United States flag at Munro’s gravesite, daily walking three miles from his home to the cemetery. According to Cooley’s daughter, for over 30 years he never missed a day, even when he was ill with pneumonia.”
Today the Coast Guard holds a color guard service each year to honor their lost brother and sole Medal of Honor Recipient. He is without a doubt long departed but never forgotten.
Click each photograph to enlarge
Given the population of this town, especially during the Second World War, it becomes apparent the price these citizens paid in terms of lives and those who served, simply by the sheer numbers of names on the Serviceman’s Monument. It was truly astounding.
As we can witness in these few photos above, and especially more so when visiting the cemetery in person, it conveys not only honor to those who have served and those who were loved by bestowing the respect of a well maintained and manicured monument and grounds but it really is a true reflection upon us as a society when we go to the lengths that we do to preserve our heritage through the remembrance of those no longer with us, even though a few times we have been a bit misplaced in how we have in the past chosen less wisely, we do for the most part “get it right”.
Our next cemetery presents, at least for me, another perspective. Different, yet in some ways a simpler and more of a natural type burial philosophy: A pioneer style cemetery.
What can be appreciated by a resting place such as this is the near solitude and being with nature. We tend to view our lives in rather insular fashions. Yet it is undeniable that we are originally from this earth and will return to this earth. The first cemetery is a truly human construct based upon our history and culture and the latter is surely more akin to what most living things become, and for almost all us of who ceased to be, did so without fanfare, markings, or even a trace, yet came back as nature does in its own renewal. Our remains yet again reclaimed.
A sign at the entrance to the cemetery asked visitors not to disturb the flora or markers and to leave them as they are found, that only family or certain others may attend to these pursuant to the wishes of the interred. And here we find those who have simply manicured plots and those who prefer just to let nature take the lead. A few markers were home-made. For some this is a fitting tribute.
We are certainly well served in remembering those who have since passed, and to devote a time or two toward the memory of another, if that is our choice. But it does have its place and we sometimes do ourselves a small disservice by investing too much retrospection in the glory and the vitality of others generations or more in the past. It is a kind of vicarious life experienced through past achievements of others–those achievements that we haven’t realized can actually exist in ourselves if we weren’t so timid or reserved to pursue accolades on our own accord. Perhaps in that case we should just allow the dead to rest in peace.
Images (C) 2021 by Darren Smith