Musings from a National Cemetery

Traffic noise drifted from the busy road alongside the Houston National Cemetery this past Saturday. Construction netting and piles of dirt formed an odd boundary around the far side of the section containing my father-in-law’s grave. But these could not take away from the sense of serenity and order. Everything about this place manifests respect for our veterans: hundreds of granite headstones stand at attention in perfect rows and columns, much as those once stood whose graves they mark. The grass stands at attention, too, every blade clipped to the same length like a military haircut. Live Oak trees stretch their shade over drives and walkways; fountains send up spray from numerous little ponds. You can see the US and Texas flags from all over. Fallen heroes are honored in this place.

But not all our heroes are buried in a National Cemetery. I thought about my two grandfathers, who both joined the US Army during World War I. My dad’s father served in France and was buried with military honors in Oklahoma. My mother’s father, deemed “4-F,” served in obscurity. He spent the war in a military post office in New Jersey or someplace. He was also buried in obscurity, in a remote cemetery outside a small Missouri town. His grave is not even near his own parents’, fifteen miles down the road, but with his wife’s people. My grandmother’s people. (My grandmother’s grandfather, who served in the US Army during the Civil War, is buried in the same obscure cemetery.)

Of course, military heroes do not arise out of a vacuum. Behind every one of them is a family who raised them to be responsible adults–the sort of responsible adults who will go and fight oppression wherever their country sends them. These mothers, fathers and siblings are also heroes. Such a hero was my father-in-law’s mother Agnes. Agnes raised Dad and the rest of her seven children to successful adulthood with more interference than help from her alcoholic husband. Dad Johnson's stoneDad’s brothers, both several years older, joined the military during World War II. He himself was drafted near the beginning of the Korean War. Although he was not naturally a fighter and he hated cold weather, he served with distinction through two bitterly cold Korean winters. The Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. bears this inscription, which describes Dad Johnson’s heroism better than I could:

Our nation honors her sons and daughters
who answered the call
to defend a country they never knew
and a people they never met.

And, of course, most of us know someone currently in military service. As an Aggie Mom whose son was commissioned into the US Army from Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, I am privileged to know a number of young officers and future officers who will be flying trainers, making desert patrols or studying Arabic this week. These young heroes also have heroes behind them. I think of my lovely daughter-in-law, who does not intend to mope her way through my son’s first deployment. Instead she is arranging to spend that time in positive, productive ways.

On Saturday Brent placed a small American flag beside Dad Johnson’s headstone. In a way it felt good to have a grave to visit, to see Dad and his brothers in arms all being held in such honor. The granite monuments here hold a deep meaning. (My own Dad, who spent most of World War II aboard a Merchant Marine supply ship, chose cremation, so we have no special place to honor him.) As near as I can figure, the real memorial is found in brave and selfless deeds — whether celebrated or barely known — that live on to impact the world after the one who performed them is gone.

Happy Memorial Day. And welcome, Soli Deo Gloria sisters!
Thanks for reading,
Jan

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15 Responses to Musings from a National Cemetery

  1. Jeannine or Grandma Johnson says:

    Jan,
    Thanks for the wonderful write up you did on your visit to Houston
    National Cemetery.
    The article is so great and right on Memorial Day. You are the greatest.
    words can not express the joy of reading about our families service
    to this great country. God Bless America. Love Mom

    Like

  2. Dan Gise says:

    Jan,
    If I am not mistaken, the merchant marine during WW2 had the highest casualty rate of any branch of service – could be wrong, but do not let anyone downplay the valor of serving on a basically unarmed civilian vessel in a war zone.

    Like

    • Jan says:

      You’re right; they were sitting ducks. Fortunately, my dad was in the South Pacific. The Japanese felt that attacking such civilians was beneath them, so they fared much better than their counterparts in the Atlantic. But that does not diminish the seamen’s heroism at all.
      Thanks for taking time to comment!

      Like

  3. Herschel Martin says:

    Beautiful, Beautiful tribute to a wonderful friend.

    Like

    • Jan says:

      Herschel, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. Arnold always had a sparkle in his eye when he talked about you! I am honored at your comment.

      Like

  4. Bev and Buzz says:

    Jeannine’s Cousin and husband
    A wonderful tribute to Arnold.
    A wonderful daughter-in-law.
    Bless your whole family.
    and God Bless this U.S. of A.

    Like

  5. Gusti says:

    Great Article…It has such a flow that I did`nt realize that was the end.
    Maybe we will not be asked personally to ” defend a country we never knew
    and a people we never met” but I like the style you wrote we should be grateful to those whom gave their life defending liberty and giving people freedom to live in their own countries…

    Most of all i like your writing style Jan
    I am waiting your book :))))

    Like

  6. Remembering, too.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

    Like

  7. Jen says:

    This is my favorite bit: “the real memorial is found in brave and selfless deeds — whether celebrated or barely known.”

    It inspires me to not seek recognition, but rather, to revel in the pleasure of serving.

    Like

    • Jan says:

      Hi, Jen! Your 31-Day series has been amazing; it is your own brave and selfless deed and it is blessing many. Thank you for serving, and for stopping by today.

      Like

  8. Laura says:

    My sentiments exactly! Monday, I wrote about remembering the loved one behind those who serve our country. Thanks for visiting me, and for this great reminder.

    Like

  9. Pamela says:

    This is a beautiful post. The government wants all Veterans to sign a DNR — killing the ones who fought for our freedom. I try never to pass a soldier without giving thanks.

    Blessings,
    Pamela

    Like

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