Last Sunday afternoon Teresa and Spike and I took advantage of the low humidity and spring-like weather that lasts about a minute in Columbia before we hit the days that make you feel like you could melt any second and drove over to St. Peter’s Cemetery downtown just off I-126. Remarkably, this was a cemetery we had overlooked in our graveyard tours in the past because of its proximity to the much larger Elmwood Cemetery which goes on forever. (No pun intended.)
What impressed me first was the large number of little American flags standing guard over the graves. It’s a common occurrence for soldiers’ markers to have the small red, white and blue colored flags flying above the veterans’ graves but usually only one or two families bother. Clearly, this was a concerted effort by someone or some group or perhaps St. Peter’s themselves to honor every fallen soldier. Luckily Teresa had her cell phone with her and was able to take pictures.
I was taken with the names of the veterans and wondered about their stories from the wars.
What was a World War I army nurse from New Jersey doing in a Columbia, South Carolina cemetery, I wondered. She was born just ten years after the Civil War and somehow ended up as an Army nurse in World War I. Now she rests here with an American flag that acknowledges her service to her country and two visitors who would like to know how she came to be in this place.
James Riley was born in New York in 1837 and actually served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier; he died in Columbia in 1924. He is buried here draped with a flag that is the symbol of a country he tried to destroy. Yet, here he is – a survivor of one of the bloodiest wars in American history.
Then there’s Sergeant Charles Edward Timmons, Jr. who served in World War I and was killed in action. His body is buried in France, but his family has honored him with a beautiful marker and stone flag that flies every day so boldly it practically reaches out for your attention.
Hugo Krause was born in Germany in 1855 and died in 1925 in Eastover, South Carolina, which is a small town south of Columbia. Apparently Mr. Krause was also a soldier but served a different country in World War I. Someone is still proud of his German heritage.
So the stones tell short stories of a few of the soldiers we honor this Memorial Day which is a day of remembrance for those who cared enough for what they believed in to offer up their lives to preserve those beliefs. I admire and respect these soldiers for their sacrifices.
My family had members who served in World War I and World War II as well as ancestors who served on both sides of the Civil War and some who date to the Revolutionary War for Independence in 1776. I obviously didn’t know many of them, but I did know my father who was a navigator in the Army Air Corps in 1944-45. He was nineteen years old when he enlisted and sent to officer training school in San Antonio.
He served with the Eighth Air Force in England and flew thirty-two missions over Germany in the short time he was over the Pond. He was never proud of his assignments – the only thing he ever said to me about it was he felt he did his duty.
I am proud of the teenager who left his small rural Grimes County, Texas home town, family and friends to do what he thought was right. His country was proud of his service, too, and awarded him the Medal of Honor when he was discharged. On this Memorial Day I will once again respectfully remember the young man who became the father I loved and all the daughters and sons, mothers and fathers who served in past years and those who serve today who will not be with their own families because they have a reason that puts them in harm’s way every day.
Memorial Day matters.