Cemetery Watchmen

Saturday, 13 February 2010

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s.

Sneaking a look at my watch I saw the time. 1655 hours.

Five minutes to go before the Cemetery gates closed for the day.

Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summer time was as bad as ever–the heat and humidity at the same level–both too high

I saw the car pull into the drive, ’69 or ’70 model Cadillac Deville. Looked factory new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace. An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers. About four or five bunches as best I could tell.

I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted and left a slightly bitter taste. She’s going to spend an hour and for this old soldier! My hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!

But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in.

Kevin would lock the “IN” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along we might make it to Smokey’s in time.

I broke post attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step. The pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight: middle-aged man with a small pot gut and half a limp–in Marine full-dress uniform which had lost its razor crease about thirty minutes after I began the Cemetery Watch.

I stopped in front of her halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint.

“Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”

She took long enough to answer.

“Yes son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”

“My pleasure ma’am.”

Well it wasn’t too much of a lie

She looked at me again.

“Marine, where were you stationed?”

“Vietnam, ma’am…Ground-pounder ’69 to ’71.”

She looked closer.

“Wounded in action I see. Well done Marine! I’ll be as quick as I can.”

I lied a little bigger.

“No hurry ma’am.

She smiled and winked at me.

“Son I’m eighty-five-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off…let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name is Joanne Wieserman and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”

“Yes ma’am! At your service!”

She headed for the World War I section stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches of flowers out of my arms and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was:


She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch of flowers on the stone. The name was:


She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on another stone:


She paused a moment.

“Two more son and we’re done.”

I almost didn’t say anything but then, “Yes ma’am. Take your time.”

She looked confused.

“Where’s the Vietnam section son? I seem to be lost.”

I pointed with my chin, “That way ma’am.”

“Oh,” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she fond the ones she was looking for. She placed a bunch of flowers on each of two remaining headstones:



She stood there and murmured a few words I could not make out.

“Okay son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”

“Yes ma’am. If I may ask…we’re those your kinfolk?”

She paused.


“Donald was my father.

“Stephen was my uncle.

“Stanley was my husband.

“Larry and Darrel were our sons.

“All killed in action.

“All Marines!”

The old woman stopped. Whether she had finished or couldn’t finish I don’t know. She made her way to the car, slowly and painfully.

I waited a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by his car.

“Get to the ‘OUT’ gate quick…I have something we’ve go to do!”

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. Kevin broke the rules by driving down the service road.

We beat her! She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

“Kevin” I said, “stand at attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead!” I humped it hurriedly limping across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came motoring around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate I called out in my best gunny’s voice:



Kevin never winched as he came to full-dress attention with a salute that would make his DI proud!

The woman drove through the gate with two old worn out MARINES giving her the respect she’d earned and commanded for service rendered to our country and for her performance of duty, for her honor and for her sacrifice.

I’m not sure but I think I saw her returned salute from the car.

TAPS (click here)!

Sergeant of Marines James Bancroft sends this to us and closes:

“As a final thought on my part let me share a favorite prayer:

Lord, keep our servicemen and women safe,

whether they serve at home or overseas

Hold them in your loving hands,

and protect them as they protect us.

Let’s all keep those “on watch” and those who’ve gone before us in our thoughts. They are the reason for the many freedoms we enjoy.


(Sergeant Bancroft adds: “Sorry about your monitor…this made mine blurry too. If ever we forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will become a nation gone under. Now, pass this on!”)

13 Responses to “Cemetery Watchmen”

  1. thistle Says:

    I enter this site and often leave misty eyed. Not complaining as I love reading what’s best and beautiful about our country, and especially now while our rights and freedoms are teetering on the edge of the proverbial cliff. Though there’s much that I love about America and being American, I realize that neither would be possible without the sacrifices of our men & women in uniform, and so they are what ranks topmost on my list of what’s best and beautiful about our country. Thanks again for another heartwarming and tear jerker true story, but more importantly…..thanks to all the men and women who have served, past and present, to give us the freedoms that we often take for granted.

  2. Les Strawn Says:

    Just an old disabled vet wanting to let you know I enjoyed your site. I was not a Marine but did spend time running the ridge into Khe Sanh and we all lost comrades and some parts of ourselves there. I did retire from MCAS, Cherry Point, NC. I thank you.

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