Monday, May 26, 2008

Leif - Memorial Day Visit to the Cemetery

I have always felt sad on Memorial Day, for all those who died for our country, and all their families, and I feel the same each time I hear and see the "Honor Roll" for those who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq on television. Leif felt very strongly about the deaths of his fellow soldiers in Iraq. He felt out country valued the lives of its soldiers far less than the lives of those who died on 9/11, and he blamed President Bush for their deaths.

I have never visited a national cemetery on Memorial Day before. We went today (it will show up as yesterday on the blog post date because it's after midnight) to honor Leif, and because they set his stone marker on Friday and we wanted to see it. It wasn't so much about visiting Leif, because the Leif we love isn't there. It's hard to know that all he was, that towering figure in so many ways, is now just our memories and photos, and all that's in that niche is ashes.

When we were there for the inurnment service, there was hardly anyone else there. It was a place of quiet peace. Today, there were many families visiting the graves of loved ones, some placing flowers, one man down on his hands and knees carefully scraping dust and dirt out of the incised letters of the marker stone. There were small American flags by each in-ground burial (all burials at Bay Pines National Cemetery are cremations), and that made it so much more obvious how many are buried here. The stones are flat to the ground, so it looks more like beautiful grass fields unless you walk over them and see the stones as you look down.

The campanile was playing the songs of each military service as we got there. That started the tears flowing. It always does, whether I'm at a sad occasion or not, just as the National Anthem makes me cry. I'm a hopelessly emotional person, I guess.

Peter had been worried about how I would handle seeing Leif's niche with the stone in place, and yes, I cried, but it wasn't as bad as either of us feared. I think it was because I had tried hard to prepare myself, and because I realized that it isn't really Leif that is there.

I decided to put a series of photos on this post beginning with one of him in Uzbekistan. He is in the center with two UN soldiers from other countries on either side of him. The other photos are his marker, the columbarium that his niche is in (his is exactly in the middle on the second row from the top), one of the fields of flags, and the column monument at the entrance to the cemetery.

If you haven't been to a national cemetery and you have the chance to go, please do. You will find it very moving, and all those who paid for our liberty with their lives deserve our thanks. Arlington National Cemetery is particularly worth a visit.

Leif did not die in the service of his country, at least not directly, though I think that service played a part in his death. He was a disabled veteran who began having asthma attacks in cold weather after the military exercises he was a part of in Uzbekistan in the fall of 1998. Although I have no way of proving it, I believe the experienced some substance or "trigger" there which caused his asthma. He had never had it before.

It was asthma that ruined his military career and put a stop to his hopes of a career in law enforcement, and was part of a chain of disappointments that added to his depression.

But no matter what, Leif served his country proudly and took very seriously his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. And we are proud of him for his service.

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