Roy Exum: A Cemetery Watchman

woman holding yellow petaled flowers while standing near seashore

The story comes to me from Oklahoma. I do not know who wrote it, nor its origin, but I hope you will read it and imagine my first reading, just now, as you do …

– – –

My friend Kevin and I are volunteers at a National Cemetery in Oklahoma and put in a few days a month in a ‘slightly larger’ uniform. Today had been a long, long day and I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s and have a cold one. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 16:55. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day.

Full dress was hot in the August sun: Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever–the heat and humidity at the same level–both too high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, ’69 or ’70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory new.

It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace. An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed; she had a cane and a sheaf of flowers–about 4 or 5 bunches as best I could tell.

I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted and left a slightly bitter taste: ‘She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier, my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!’

But for this day, my duty was to assist anyone coming in.

Kevin would lock the ‘In’ gate and if I could hurry the old lady along, we might make it to Smokey’s in time for a cold one. Or two.

I broke post attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight: middle-aged man with a small pot gut and half a limp, in Marine full-dress uniform, which had lost its razor crease about thirty minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint.

‘Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?’

She took long enough to answer.

‘Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days’

‘My pleasure, ma’am.’ (Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.)

She looked again. ‘Marine, where were you stationed?’

‘ Vietnam, ma’am. Ground-pounder. ’69 to ’71.’

She looked at me closer. ‘Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.’

I lied a little bigger: ‘No hurry, ma’am.’

She smiled and winked at me. ‘Son, I’m 85-years-old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.’

‘Yes, ma ‘am. At your service.’

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the flower bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone.

She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC: France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek.

She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944.

She paused for a second and more tears flowed.

‘Two more, son, and we’ll be done’

I almost didn’t say anything, but ‘Yes, ma’am. Take your time.’

She looked confused. ‘Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.’

I pointed with my chin. ‘That way, ma’am.’

‘Oh!’ she chuckled quietly. ‘Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.’

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman, USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman, USMC, 1970.

She stood there and murmured a few words I couldn’t make out and more tears flowed.

‘OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.’

‘Yes, ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?’

She paused.  ‘Yes, Donald Davidson was my father, Stephen was my uncle, Stanley was my husband, Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action. All Marines.’

She stopped. Whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know.

She made her way to her car, slowly and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin, waiting by the car.

‘Get to the ‘Out’ gate quick! I have something I’ve got to do.’

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us down the service road fast. We beat her.

She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

‘Kevin, stand at attention next to the gatepost. Follow my lead.’

I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: ‘Tehen Hut!

‘Present arms!’

I have to hand it to Kevin; he never blinked an eye — full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud.

She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send-off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing duty, honor, and sacrifice far beyond the realm of most.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Instead of ‘The End,’ just think of ‘Taps.’

As a final thought on my part, let me share a favorite prayer: ‘Lord, keep our servicemen and women safe, whether they serve at home or overseas. Hold them in your loving hands and protect them as they protect us.’

Let’s all keep those currently serving and those who have gone before in our thoughts. They are the reason for the many freedoms we enjoy.

In God We Trust.’

Sorry about your monitor; it made mine blurry too!

If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.

* * *

AND SO, I HAVE A NAGGING QUESTION …

* — On Sunday, in the placid Wisconsin town of Kenosha., Wisc. (about half the size of Chattanooga, on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan), a black man was shot about 5 p.m. when he, during a heated confrontation with police, reached inside his car for an unknown reason. Jacob Blake, age 29, had a violent history with the police. Within only hours, a mob gathered and rioted, shut down the streets in Kenosha, Wisc., setting trucks on fire, patrolling the streets with semi-automatic rifles, and ransacking nearby businesses.

An automobile dealership was heavily vandalized, its vehicles set on fire, and even the public library was ransacked. Stores were systematically broken into and pillaged, and the whole town was described as “a scene out of hell.”

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D-Wisc.) had few, if any details on the carnage, and he did not wait for more details before condemning the shooting:

“Tonight, Jacob Blake was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kathy and I join his family, friends, and neighbors in hoping earnestly that he will not succumb to his injuries,” Evers tweeted. “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.

“We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country—lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Dontre Hamilton, Ernest Lacy, and Sylville Smith,” the governor added. “And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites.”

He said he believed the shooting was racially motivated. “In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”

Due to a total lack-of-control, the National Guard has now been deployed.

* * *

In Chicago, for the week beginning on Sunday, August 16, and ending at Saturday midnight, 08/22, there were 144 shootings and 10 homicides, that is in one week! For the year Chicago has seen 2,677 shootings and 481 homicides. Who do we see about that?

* * *

Portland, Oregon?  A “Blue Lives Matter” rally on Saturday was infiltrated by Antifa thugs and rioting broke out for the 86th straight night. Twenty three were arrested this weekend by the Portland police but the city’s DA has said he will not pursue legal retribution. President Trump has renewed his intention of a National Guard call.

* * *

So, my nagging question is simply this: At what point does the 85-year-old Joanne Wieserman get to see the result of a lifetime of human investment into the good of the United States? Show me her return and dividend? From all I can see in her decades of hope, sorrow, anguish, and promise, she deserves to see gain but because of our riffraff and its shallow noise, her lone recourse is to lay flowers. She deserves far better … far, far much better … and the true American should settle the bill.

* * *

A CLEVER CARD TRICK – Somehow one of the cleverest cards tricks ever may fit right now. To see it CLICK HERE.

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