Bundled up in a miss matching scarf and coat, I hopped into my car with my boyfriend’s mom and we took a trip down to Abraham Lincoln Cemetery, a cemetery comprised of mostly veterans. I have never been to a veteran’s cemetery before but had seen pictures of Arlington and had a small idea of what it might be like.
My small idea was nothing of what it was like.
Illinois is a state made of fields, fields and more fields minus the hustle and bustle of Chicago. Abraham Lincoln Cemetery was no different. Surrounded by open sky, open field and some small groupings of trees, we drove in. I first saw a gathering of white headstones and the information center and thought that was it. I figured this was Illinois. There really couldn’t be that many so the amount that I saw was exactly what I expected.
We drove further back to find some parking and then the cemetery unfolded into hundreds upon thousands of little white stones laid out in a perfect diagonal pattern. Even farther back there were more sections of those stones. It is one thing to hear about all those who have served but it’s a completely different thing to see them all laid out before you.
There was a nice ceremony, though, I couldn’t hear very much. Hundreds of people littered the cemetery and what I loved was that they were from all walks of life. There was an old hispanic war vet cuddling his Chihuahua, who was sporting a fashionable plaid scarf, in his coat. A group of boy scouts were standing in front of us. A middle-aged couple was off to my right. A motor cycle group passed in front of me a few times. Some teenaged girls were running in their Victoria’s Secret yoga pants and Ugg boots to catch up to their friends.
Laying the wreaths came next. You picked a plot of graves, got a sheet of a specific grave that a wreath had been assigned to, grabbed your bristly wreath and off you went. Grave 297 was a man that had served in the Army and died at about 80 years of age. I whispered his name, fluffed my wreath and touched the stone.
This was repeated about four more times. My boyfriend’s mom found a 20-year-old sailor that died with a purple heart. One of my graves was a sailor that was a “Beloved dad, husband and Poppy.” Some wives were buried on the opposing side as their husbands.
It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking to look up and see all these graves spread out and decorated with wreaths, all these children and adults scattered about to see that every grave was attended to.
It was one of the few places that I have found where I felt comfortable to say I was a girlfriend to someone in the military and one of the few places that I felt totally connected to the past, present and future.
To donate, volunteer or to learn more about Wreaths Across America please visit Wreaths Across America.