Military Honors

A day of reflection. A day of family conflict too, but I’ve decided that’s inevitable. It’s all part and parcel of being human. Not that I’m making any excuses for their not working things out, mind you.

I drove to Point Loma Military Cemetery for the funeral service of a family member. Not someone I knew terribly well or had spent a lot of time with. In fact, John Christofferson was I person I didn’t know at all. He was such a quiet guy. Sure, I had spent time at his home, had exchanged the usual meaningless banter about this or that. But to claim to have really known him would be an exercise in self-deception.

Nevertheless, the memorial service for John and his late wife was very moving. Full military honors. Honor guard, taps being played after the sharp crack of a uniformly fired series of rifles had been absorbed by the cloudless sky. The presentation of the flag to the next-of-kin. Even the shell casings were preserved to mark the event.

I’ve seen military/state funerals on television, and always wondered what was said at the moment the flag was presented to the survivor. Essentially it’s an acknowledgement of their loss and the “presentation of the flag as a token of thanks from a grateful nation.” Isn’t it odd how a few words from an ordinary naval midshipman can somehow put the whole world back into it’s proper order, if only for a moment? I was very surprised at what he said, and my reaction to it. This honor guard performs a memorial service at that site every hour of every day. I’m sure he’s said those words hundreds if not thousands of times. Yet it was not just lip service. I can spot false platitudes blindfolded at a hundred paces with the greatest of ease. It’s a gift.

I hate cemeteries and graveyards. Did you know that? I’ve been to too many funerals, spent to many hours in them for someone my age. The last thing I would ever want to do is wander around one. But at Point Loma it was actually calming. It was cathartic to see the dignity and honor with which those who served our country are laid to rest, how their final resting places are cared for. How the most beautiful vantage point in San Diego, and perhaps the whole country, was not relegated to the developer with the fattest checkbook but rather the ones who really paid the most for each square foot of that land.

In keeping with the military tradition of uniformity, each of the granite headstones is exactly the same size and shape. From the loftiest admirals to the lowliest ensigns, everyone is treated equally. Jim pointed out that he liked the granite headstones because they presented a physical manifestation of the cost of war. With over 70,000 veterans are buried at Point Loma, I had to agree. I’ve got some photos on an as-yet unfinished roll of film. Once they’re developed I’ll post them here so you can see what I’m talking about. For now, just imagine an army of gravestones dotting the rolling hills as far as the eye can see… a cool breeze wafting through precisely placed rows, one after the other, without end until freshly cut green grass meets blue ocean.


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