Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sadness of the VA Cemetery ...

Richie's brother Charlie and his wife Rosalind live on Long Island, NY, and twice a year they fly out here to see their daughter and her family who live in Studio City.  (Twice a year the daughter and family fly to Long Island.)

From here at the beach, one has a choice of two routes - the 405 North or La Cienega to Beverly Hills to Coldwater Canyon to Ventura Boulevard.   Yesterday - Sunday morning - we took the Freeway because traffic was stepping right along. 

Familiar sites flew by - Nordstroms, the cinema, Century City's skyscrapers until at last we were opposite the VA Cemetery just after Wilshire Boulevard.

This is a part of the trip I enjoy because I love to see the military precision in the ruler-straight lines between the headstone rows.  From any angle you view them, they are straight as a die.  Certainly it is a sad sight and I always say "thank you" mentally.

But yesterday it struck me.  There were no grave decorations - no flowers, no helium balloons - just row after row after row of plain white stones, shaped like tablets.  Like a giant's neatly-planted teeth.    

The lack of decoration, if you will, bothered me - maybe many of the graves held men/women whose families had all died out, too?  Perhaps flowers and balloons were forbidden?  So I looked it up.

This VA cemetery was opened on May 22, 1889, covers 114 acres which hold 89,000 graves of military and their spouses.  The cemetery's first guests were veterans of the Mexican-American War followed by the Civil War and then the Spanish American War on up to today's veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There are two dogs buried there - "Old Bonus" the mascot at the Old Soldiers Home and "Blackout" who fought in the Pacific during WW2.   Also of note, Wyatt Earp's father and Dean Martin's son Dean Paul Martin.

The chapel was renamed the Bob Hope Veterans Chapel in 2002 to honor Hope on his 99th birthday.

An additional 13 acres has been purchased to build columbarium (basically walls with niches for cremated remains containers) because there is no more space for coffin burials except for spouses of the deceased (they stack them.)   It is planned that these walls will contain another 89,000 people.

To answer the lurid decorations ban (I have personally seen a pair of child-sized flip flops, toy bears, and more in other cemeteries) the VA does permit fresh flowers (no plastic varieties allowed) and fancier decoration for 10 days before Easter and Christmas.   If you don't come and get your offerings, they are held in storage for a month and then destroyed.  The VA feels that dignity is better as a reminder.

And now I agree.  There is something so very moving about row after row of plan white crosses.  Perhaps aside from family and friends, the dead buried there are as anonymous as they may have been in life and yet ... they gave their lives for this country. 

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