“Thank You. Rest Well, My Friend.”

IMG_0603I loaded my hatchback with a flat of geraniums, a watering can, trowel, and gardening gloves. Reluctantly, I backed out of my driveway. The last thing I wanted to do that morning was plant flowers on graves. I hoped that I wouldn’t have much digging to do, or cleanup. I’d brought the necessary supplies, just in case, but I dreaded the thought of extra work.

Entering the cemetery through its old iron gates, I let down the window allowing the warm spring air to fill my car. It was peaceful traveling the narrow, tree-lined roads early. Most people were at work or still sipping their first cup of coffee.

flagsI hauled my supplies between rows of headstones until I came to my grandfather’s, “Henry W. Ellsworth, 1st Infantry Division, WWI.” His stone was dirty. Grass grew where I needed to plant, so I went back to the car for those extra things that I’d hoped I wouldn’t need. I knelt at his grave, scrubbing the headstone, pulling at the encroaching sod, fretting about how long it was taking and everything else I had to do. I barely noticed the elderly gentleman, wearing a veteran’s cap, carrying a fist full of small American flags. He ambled among the rows carefully reading the inscriptions, placing a flag on each veteran’s grave, then standing silently for a few seconds before moving from one grave to the next.

Eventually, he came to my row. I hoped that he wouldn’t be chatty and take up a lot of my time. I decided to look busy and say a polite hello. That’s all – just “hello.”

He approached with a somber look on his face. “Good morning,” he offered, dryly.

“Good morning,” I replied, looking up at him and forcing a smile.

stoneThe old man bent down and placed a flag in the metal holder near my grandfather’s headstone. He straightened up, took one step backward, snapped his open right hand to his forehead, and saluted. Then he bowed his head briefly and whispered, “Thank you. Rest well, my friend.” At that moment, I realized that he had been doing this at every veteran’s grave. Tears burned in my eyes as I watched a stranger honor my grandfather – a man he never knew, a man who had been dead for fifty years. I managed to get out the words, “Thank you.”

I had barely known my grandfather, he died when I was two, but now I could imagine him as a young man, going off to war, leaving his wife and children at home. I know that when he returned times were hard for him and his young family, but through it all Grandpa had stood his ground and done everything that he could do. He provided for his family with strength, courage, and love, and when he passed away, at the age of 64, he had served his country and his family well.

Wiping the last bit of dirt from Grandpa’s headstone, I thought of others in my family who had been in the military and are now with God. Each had served his country and then returned to face life’s challenges: my great-grandfather, John, a Union soldier in the Civil War; my great-uncle, Walter, a veteran of the Spanish American War; my uncle, Dick, who served in WWII; my mother’s cousin, Ralph, a wounded prisoner of war; my uncle, Glenn, an honored officer in the Marine corp; and my cousin’s husband, Brian, a decorated Vietnam veteran who died a few  years ago. Before Memorial Day, a small flag had been placed on each of their graves, and I wondered if the person who put it there took time to salute and softly whisper a thank you.

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Joshua 1:9 says: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

None of the soldiers in my family looked forward to the fight. Some were required to commit acts that haunted them for the rest of their lives. But, they courageously did what their country asked of them. And because of their Christian heritage, I’m almost certain that they carried bibles with them in the field and kept God near their hearts. They did everything as best they could, then they stood strong believing in God’s goodness and love.The Lord was with these men when they went to war. The Lord graciously returned all of them to our family. He gave them courage as husbands and fathers to stand against life’s challenges, and when they had done all that they could do, God was there to guide them Home.

Thank you! Thank you, and rest well!

geraniumKind Heavenly Father, On this Memorial Day, instill in us gratefulness for our family members who have served and now are with You. Amen.

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4 Comments

Filed under Memorial Day, Uncategorized

4 responses to ““Thank You. Rest Well, My Friend.”

  1. Jean, what a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story and for a family who has tirelessly served their country so well. May your Memorial Day weekend be blessing-filled! 😊

  2. Cecelia Lester

    Jean: this is most touching. Thank you for sharing.

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