Photo: Past Memorial Day at Patriot Plaza

Serving Among the Fallen

Posted on May 22, 2024 by Dava Guerin, Author

Editor's Note: Dava Guerin is the author of nine books, primarily about veterans, wounded warriors, and their caregivers. She supports SNC, Patriot Plaza, The Gary Sinise Foundation, and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

 

Every day is Memorial Day at Sarasota National Cemetery.

With Memorial Day just around the corner, many Americans will be soaking up the sun at the beach or consuming hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the grill. While the holiday is often confused with Veterans Day, it is a solemn occasion to honor those military members who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms. But for those of us fortunate enough to have some connection to a military cemetery, such as Sarasota National, every day is an opportunity to not only honor our dead heroes but celebrate their service through their memories and the families that love them.
 
It was in 2020 that I made a phone call that literally changed my life. Before my mother passed away from Lewy Body Dementia at ninety-two, Tidewell Hospice suggested I contact a funeral home to prepare for her passing and final resting place. Since my father was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War Two, I was told he was eligible to be buried at a military cemetery and that we had one right here in Sarasota, Florida. So, I contacted Sarasota National Cemetery (SNC) and talked to one of the officials there, who could not have been more helpful during what, for most of us who lost a loved one, is an emotionally devastating time.
 
He explained the process to become eligible for burial at SNC, the choices of potential burial options—in ground or in the columbarium—the vast selection of symbols and words to be placed on the headstones or niche covers, and even how to arrange for a gun salute and other military honors for the service. The conversation was ironically both informative and sacred. Why? Because just knowing that my mother and father would be together forever in such a beautiful 295-acre cemetery, as well as be surrounded by 33,000 other heroes, was surprisingly comforting.
 
The day of my parent’s service, which also included my husband, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who passed away in 2019, was flawless, effortless, moving, and inspirational. Like clockwork, we were greeted by caring cemetery representatives who guided us from start to finish, offering their hearts and condolences for my family and friends there to honor the legacy of my parents and husband. The shell casings from the rifle salute were handed to me in a blue velvet bag following the playing of Taps, as well as the folded military funeral flag. There were plenty of tears and, at the same time, tears of gratitude.
 
Following the service, I returned many times to SNC to visit my loved ones and take part in placing flags on the headstones, niches, and wreaths during the holidays. I decided to volunteer to become a tour guide at Patriot Plaza—the amazing space within SNC that honors service, inspires patriotism, and embraces freedom. I was also encouraged to volunteer as a greeter at SNC, sitting at the front desk and helping families who were grieving, just like me.
 
When they cried, I gave them a hug. When they talked about their loved one, I listened. When they had a question, I answered.
 
About two weeks ago, a young woman came into the information center in tears. She had just buried her father and had to leave the next day and return to her home in New Jersey. She did not want to leave him alone. I explained to her that he was in good company. That every person buried or interred there was a hero or the spouse or child of a hero. That while he has passed, his legacy will live on through his story of service and the thousands of other stories of our nation’s heroes.
 
So, on this Memorial Day, have that burger, but consider walking through SNC or a military cemetery where you live. By acknowledging their ultimate sacrifice, though they are no longer with us, they will forever be remembered and remain together in a sacred space of service.


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