I know that someday you'll find better things.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Since most people do not have the opportunity to attend eight funerals simultaneously or slay 41 watermelons in under 30 minutes, especially on the same day, I feel it is important to share with you some of today's events. Most people would call today Thursday, but for me, it was Huckleberry-day: I had a unique opportunity to be in the right place at the right time to do the things that needed to be done.


As Russ brushed his teeth before bed, I told him about what I’d just learned: eight veterans were being interred the following day at our national cemetery and not a single one of them had any known family members.

Let that sink in for a moment.

At some point, each one of these veterans had been someone’s newborn baby. Someone’s toddler. Someone’s teenager. Perhaps they’d been someone’s brother or sister. Maybe they’d been someone’s spouse. Perhaps they’d been someone’s parent. Surely they’d been someone’s friend.

And now they had no one. No one to show up and show their respect.

Obviously, I had to attend. 
After all, all lives matter.

“They served our country. They defended and protected our freedom,” I told Russ. “It’s the least I can do.” 

At 'it’s the least I can do,' I saw Russ’s mouth twitch a little at the side.

“I know what you’re thinking, and I can honestly say this not even remotely similar to the butter incident.” I said, surprising myself with how defensive my tone sounded.

Years ago-- no, eons ago-- I’d gone through a phase of what Russ had fondly nicknamed ‘frontier fortitude’ where I’d felt a deep sense of responsibility to pay my respect to the pioneers of the past by performing certain basic tasks, like churning my own butter. It seemed like the least I could do, considering how many other modern conveniences inundated our lives.

It did not go well.
Finally I just put the cream and the salt in the blender and hoped for the best. Even then, it was still pretty awful.

But this was different.
We both knew I’d be attending those funerals.
I was just giving him a heads up to be polite.

There are not very many cemeteries in our area of North Texas, so I was hoping it was the one I was already familiar with. It was not. It was much, much farther away-- but I did not mind. Those veterans served our country. It was the least I could do.

Passing through the entrance gates was like a portal to Arlington, Virginia itself. The place is huge, and it looks just like the pictures of every military cemetery you’ve ever seen. Rolling hills, trees, and thousands of rows of short, skinny headstones, lined up as straight and attentive as soldiers themselves.

Because I arrived early, I parked near the information center and sat in the car, listening to the thunder, watching the lightning flash across the sky, and waiting to see what would happen next.

Meanwhile, I tried to learn as much as I could about my surroundings. This particular cemetery has been open for burials since May 12, 2000.

The VA National Cemetery Administration website provided more details:

Currently, more than 1.5 million veterans live in the state of Texas and approximately 460,000 reside in the cemetery's service area. The Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery has developed 152 acres of the 638-acre cemetery providing 41,102 casketed sites and 18,121 columbaria/garden niches for cremated remains. Fully developed, Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery will provide burial space for 280,000 eligible veterans and dependents.

All those headstones… just since May 12, 2000?
My stomach flip-flopped. 

As someone who grew up in a small town with most of the headstones starting with 16- - , 17- - , and 18 - -, the fact that nearly 8 times my hometown’s population was currently buried here just since May 12, 2000 was unfathomable.

And none of them knew they’d be buried here. Not really.

(My own burial plot was purchased shortly before my fifth birthday. You really have to plan ahead in New England, and besides, my mother says she can’t get quality sleep unless she knows exactly where I am. Can’t make this stuff up, folks.)

The people we were here to honor today certainly didn’t plan to be buried here. Still, the service was every bit as official as you’d expect. Taps played slowly on a real bugle, flags folded expertly by a fleet of impeccably dressed soldiers. Prayers.

As far as I could tell, there were only two main differences:
  1. The “personal” part took less than five minutes. Literally all that was known about these soldiers were their names, dates of birth, years of service, and dates of death.
  2. The audience. I’m not sure how many people were there. Twenty? Fifty? What is important to know is this: not one single person there actually knew the deceased.

Here’s where things get interesting. Although the audience did not know the deceased, most of them did know each other. About a third of them seemed to be members of some sort of Harley Davidson club, another third seemed to be military-esque. The remaining third were the independents, like me.

After the names had been read and the final prayer was said, the “officiant” (I sincerely don’t know a better word) shared some final thoughts, which in my opinion were the absolute best part of the whole event.

He introduced himself and explained that he and his team had been invited to officiate this service by the cemetery administration. His team (and here, he gestured broadly) were not here because they were bikers or vets, but because they were patriots. The organization is called the North Texas Patriot Guard Riders, and what we witnessed today was what they do.

Sometimes multiple times per day. 

To be a member, you must do only two things: show up and show your respect.

Their mission is to honor the deceased and their families by creating and documenting a proper burial service. Then, they (and I’m not sure who “they” are in this case-- the organization? The VA?) have genealogists working tirelessly in search of the next of kin. When the families are located, the organization provides the flag, a video of the service, photos, even a weather report-- details to help the families create a mental movie. Details that will hopefully provide the same kind of closure that might have occurred if they’d had the opportunity to physically be there.

On their website, I learned that another role they fulfill is to peacefully shield against protesters and outbursts in controversial situations. 

Ultimately I’m glad I attended today, and I’m grateful to know there is an organization out there who cares so deeply and shares my same need to show up and show respect. I'm fairly certain that my path will cross with theirs again in the future. 

Also, I think the world needs more Huckleberries (and less watermelon... don't even get me started on that fiasco!)