My dad, Wilber, was buried in Arlington Cemetery on a dark drizzly December afternoon of 1945. He died by his own hand, of suicide, only six weeks after returning home from a three-year deployment in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He had earned five medals and suffered two wounds during three phases of combat. There was a simple service in the cemetery chapel and a military burial, complete with a rifle salute and the ceremonial folding of the burial flag which was given to my mother.
My son-in-law, now on temporary duty with the EPA in Washington, D.C., kindly took photographs of the gravesite and its surroundings for me. They brought back the memories of that sad day; I was just four days shy of my 15th birthday. My sister Valerie, then 14, refused to come. We were only a small group of friends and family. Wilber’s two brothers were there as was General Joseph Cleland with whom my dad had served in the Philippines. He was Norma’s escort.
A burial site was reserved for Norma next to Wilber but her eligibility for burial there ceased when she remarried. In her grief, she gave the wrong date, Feb. 2, 1900, for Wilber’s birth and that ended up on his gravestone. He was born on Feb. 1, 1900, but was always kidded about being born the day before Groundhog Day so there was often confusion about the date. Some years later, after the marble had been degraded by atmospheric pollutants, the stone was replaced with a new one that had the correct date.
If you are visiting Arlington Cemetery, Wilber’s grave can be found in Section 10, number 10-10599RH. Proceed east on Eisenhower Drive to Section 10, turn right onto Porter Drive. At the red fire hydrant turn right again onto the grass and count rows heading straight for the tree in or at row 4. Keep going; Wilber’s grave is in row 6. The stone is labeled 10-10599RH.
This brings to mind, Wilber’s letter about the memorial service at Munda Cemetery in the Solomon Islands on Armistice Day 1943; see my previous blog on Veterans Day. For him, it was “so, so sad” because three of his junior officers were there in the cemetery. It seems now that Wilber was describing his own burial, which took place two short years later. Today, it is we living who are “so, so sad.”