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Monday, February 20, 2012

My blog for February 20, 2012 ----- Finding My Father

Since all men were drafted into the military up through the Viet Nam era, almost 100 percent of our male relatives and friends are eligible to be buried in a military cemetery.  My father who died in 1980 is one of these men.  In the past, I went to the cemetery where he is buried only three times because we could never find his grave.  At the time of his death, my mother was so distraught that she either did not know/it wasn't offered then/or she didn't care to have a real funeral.  So it was pretty grim when I went with her for his interment.  No ceremony, no flowers, no casket, no grass, no headstone.  We were shown a one acre field of bulldozed
dirt where he was supposed to have been buried minutes before we arrived.  A church funeral was attended by loved ones, but when my mother and I went to the cemetery it felt more like a pauper's buriel than a military one.  I was so upset I only went back about six months later, to find there was still no headstone, no grass and nobody could be sure exactly where he was.  At first I spent time angry with my mother for allowing such a thing to happen, then just tucked it into the back of my mind as one of those circumstances over which I had no control so let it go best I could.  About two years later I went back to see if I could find his grave and see the actual headstone.  Again, the VA system was so complicated, and it was a weekend, and there was no help to find it.  So I thought it may never happen.  Finally, 22 years later and with my husband better understand the workings of a VA cemetery, we went back. 

VA has taken a lot of hits lately for the mismanagement of their cemeteries and funerals and they're finally getting a system that at least is possible to work with.  They now have kiosks, which are electronic--rather like an ATM machine. You put in the loved one's name and the number and area location are given, along with a cemetery map which is printed with the information right then.  You take the map with you and you can eventually find the exact place.  Apparently all of the military cemeteries work this way now.  We went to San Diego's Ft. Rosecrans and found some uncles, then drove 100 miles north to Riverside National and found my dad and some friends' plots.

We put flowers on all of the graves, after a lesson in how to do this from some friends a week ago who showed me how at a public cemetery we went to with them.  At issue is the flower stems are too long for the cemetery cups, so one can't just "put" a bunch of flowers there without them looking sad and forlorn, tipping to the side like they were blown over.  One must cut all the stems off by about six inches, (which means bringing a cutting tool with you) then individually arrange them in the cups, which first one must find at the cemetery, as well as finding the water hosebib.  It's daunting to such as I.  Daunting enough it took me 22 years to figure it out.

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