Yesterday, my daughter Angela and I visited a couple of cemeteries in the Muncie area. First, we went to the Gardens of Memory north of town to place some flowers at the grave of my parents (Ralph & Margie DeCamp), my brother (Freddie Nicholas), and my brother's baby daughter (Lisa Kay Nicholas) who had died as an infant in 1967. In placing the flowers at my parents and brother's graves, I started sharing about how I used to visit my brother's grave (he died in 1969 at the age of 26) with my mom, and she used to clean the stone, place the decorations, and then sit down and "smoke a cigarette" with Freddie. I felt kind of strange sitting there cleaning off of her stone while explaining how she used to do the same for my brother.
Secondly, we drove to the Hopewell Cemetery off of Highway 1, north of Farmland, Indiana to visit the grave of my grandparents and an uncle. I have always loved to visit this place because of the unique and very, very old headstones; some date well back into the 1800's. The unique stones are shaped like tree trunks. Many of the old stones are worn down, and I enjoy trying to decipher these very old stones and imagine what the lives of these people must have been like. One series of stones in a row represents a decade in the life of one man and woman who kept trying to have children only to have them die as babies. I don't recall the count, but there must be at least eight stones in that row; so much pain represented and so few people remember.
One other stone I saw at Hopewell was relatively new. It was the stone for a recently deceased WWII veteran. It is sad that we are so quickly losing them from our lives and with them they take so many stories; stories that they have quietly carried inside. That stone circled my mind back around to my own father whose grave I had visited earlier in the afternoon. He too served in WWII. He rarely ever spoke of his experiences, and carried most of them to his grave. I learned only after his death that he was truly a decorated veteran. He served in the Army Air Corp in Europe and North Africa. He was a crewman on one of those large bomber gunships, and he participated in over 70 missions. He returned home with six bronze stars and several other decorations.
One of my greatest wishes is that I had both listened more intently when he did share the few stories that he did tell, and also that I had prodded him to share even more. It was only after his death that I learned that he was a true American war hero, but I am sure that he did not see himself that way, and would not want me to refer to him as such. The fact is though, he was a hero.
If you have a hero in your family, ask for his stories and take the time to listen. Time slips away so quickly.