On A Personal Note: Merry Christmas Daddy!

My father's grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

My father’s grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

I am warmed this Christmas season knowing my father has a wreath on his grave. The Dayton National Cemetery Wreaths Across America volunteer who took the time to place it and send me a photo, Norman Spurling, has my undying gratitude. He is caring for my father’s grave. That’s a comfort since I live in Florida and don’t have ready access.

So a huge thank you to Mr. Spurling and to the volunteer who placed the wreath at my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. May the families of all veterans rest easier knowing there are such good people who care for those who have served.

A Heartfelt Thank You to All the Volunteers

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

I don’t personally know who might have placed a flag on my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

He and my mother-in-law are buried in the columbarium wall. So, I’m unsure if they even have an individual flag at the stone carved with their names.

What I am sure of is that even though I am unable to visit today they will be honored by all those who attend ceremonies and visit Arlington.

I am sure of the same for my father buried at the Dayton National Cemetery. He is buried on a small hill next to a young tree that surly has grown deep roots since his service.

Today, I want to thank the VA volunteers, the Boy Scouts, the various veterans organizations, all those who honor the more than three million military members buried in graves at national cemeteries.

You honor our family members who served and by doing so you honor your nation and me. For that, I am sincerely grateful.


An Air Force Wife’s Thoughts on Memorial Day

Military personnel and civilians join together to line the streets at MacDill AFB for every "Fallen Hero Homecoming."

This Memorial Day I couldn’t help but reflect on some of my new experiences of the past few months. I have attended my first few Fallen Hero homecomings since moving to Tampa last summer.

Each time, the sidewalks on MacDill Air Force Base slowly fill. People mingle and talk and joke with one another. Some are in uniforms, some are in office attire. Some hold flags, some, like me, hold babies. It is always quite a cross-section regardless of where I’ve stood.

As the first police cars or motorcycles come into view, a silence takes over. Even fussy babies and rambunctious toddlers seem to know that it is time to be quiet as they watch the cars drive by. Of course, the hearse carrying the guest of honor gets my attention, but I can’t help but get choked up looking at the family members in cars behind. They clutch to their cameras. They gasp and cover their mouths. They are stoic and yet you can see that their eyes are glossy and red from tears.

Dayton National Cemetery where Michelle along with the Girl Scouts place flags on every grave annually for Memorial Day.

The families are the reason I attend these homecomings. The journey is over for the soldier but it is just beginning for the parents, spouses, and children. I will continue to take my daughter with me because I want her to respect the sacrifices of others. I know that I am fortunate that my husband does not deploy too often.

Watching a story about the American Widow Project on the Today Show this morning, I caught myself thinking “Wow, I want to do that.” I then realized, no, no I don’t want to be able to be part of that organization.  I can’t imagine going through losing my husband. Those spouses are who my heart goes out to on days like Monday.

Treats for Troops boxed up and awaiting shipping.

When my husband and I lived in Ohio, we participated in placing flags on the grounds at the Dayton National Cemetery through the Girl Scouts. I always found it interesting to listen to the children talk about what they were doing and how much pride they took in placing the flags just right. I plan to find a way to participate in something similar next year here in Tampa.

There are so many great organizations that do so much for military members and their family’s year round. There are organizations here in the Tampa area that I hope to volunteer with when I am able to. Operation Homefront Florida has a variety of events throughout the state. I recently began working on collecting items for care packages for Treats for Troops.

Memorial Day, and every day, I am thankful for all that have served to make this a great country and to those that serve today to keep it that way. Thank you to their families that support them as well.

Michelle VanHuss is an Air Force wife, Off the Base contributor and member of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club. Her other entries include:

Finding a Balance: Redefining Myself as an Air Force Wife

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Honoring the Honor Guards

The "Old Guard" at Arlington National Army (photo courtesy US Army.)

When we buried my father-in-law at Arlington National Cemetery, it was on my birthday. As military families know, you don’t get to pick the date.

Yet, the juxtaposition of the two events served to make that day more memorable. It forever fused my life with a man who I loved, adored and respected for his service during WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

Despite the cemetery’s recent publicized problems, I remember the honor, pride and care shown him and our family by the honor guard.

The statute of a volunteer soldier overlook's the National Cemetery at Dayton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy Dayton VA archives.)

There was less “fanfare” when we buried my father at Dayton’s National Cemetery, but no less care and courtesy shown my father and our family from the memorial service to his graveside.

I write this not as a maudlin retrospect,  but instead as a tribute to the hundreds of honor guards who give of their time so that veterans and their families can receive similar honors during burials at civilian cemeteries.

These honor guards operate quietly and for the most part anonymously every day, standing at attention one last time with a veteran. The Miami Herald published a story, “Duty and Honor,” about such a group from the Coral Gables chapter of the American Legion.

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