Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, MD
It's a very cold Veteran's Day morning. I layer my tops, my bottoms, bundle up, and drive up Route 28 to Monocacy Cemetery. My task: to find and mark the graves of veterans with a flag. Here, there are veterans of almost every war - The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and more. It is like walking inside of a history book passing stones inscribed with names such as Beall, Poole, and Dickerson - each that could be its own chapter in a Montgomery County history book! This is truly impressive, like nowhere I've been before, and a great way to spend Veteran's Day!
There are over 5,500 grave sites at Monocacy Cemetery and twice a year, once on Memorial Day and again on Veteran's Day, approximately 340 graves are honored and marked with an American Flag. I was given a list of 24 names - "Row H" - and sent off to do my "honoring." At first, I worried I wouldn't get the interaction I generally crave from these projects working alone, but as I wondered down my row studying the names and years etched in stone, and consulting my list for the war they served in, I didn't feel alone. I felt very connected. It was kind of funny because later, about halfway through, I was joined by one of the leaders and 3 other people. They were all very sweet but it changed the experience. It progressed much faster and more systematically (don't forget it was freezing), but it lacked the time for reflection I had when I was on my own. My desire to do things more slowly, pensively, and organically seemed understood and, when the group disbanded, I backtracked through the names and sites on my list I felt I had rushed through. This was a moving experience that I wanted to savor.
As my walk came to its end near the chapel where the oldest graves are, I was greeted by some of the cemetery's board members and supporters who offered more history of this great place. Their dedication to the cemetery was certainly not a passing interest as their parents and family members had been board members as well. In fact, most of their family was buried there -- together they said they were related to about 3/4 of the people buried there! This was their community and they were true civic leaders of it. They were also enthusiastic cheerleaders of me and my Follow Me To 50 project. Thank you!
I swear the cemetery folk insisted that my selfie to be taken in front of this angel!
My Takeaways: (1) I wish the veterans in my family (my two grandfathers who served in WWII and my dad who was a National Guard Reservist called up following the DC Riots in 1968) had shared more about their service with me. I know little more than it was where my dad was when my mom went into labor with me and where my grandfather was when my mom was born -- it was presented more as a backdrop for a bigger family event. I wonder why. (2) We are all so indebted to the selfless service and risks our military men and women assume and the sacrifices their families make. It really seems to be underappreciated and worthy of more status, recognition, and support. (3) You never know what you'll like or won't like until you try it. I'm very ashamed to say that I worried this experience would be stuffy or dry and that I wouldn't enjoy myself much. That could not have been further from the truth. I really loved it and got so much more out of it than I had expected. (4) I also learned new things today - not just about the history of Montgomery County or of war veterans but of stone - which stones were used when and why, how they are maintained, etc. After admiring the original Seneca Stone but seeing how fragile it is, or seeing the beautiful marble stones covered with lichen, who knows, I may be able to be talked into coming back for some spring stone cleaning!! Who'd a thunk that?! (5) I'm pretty amazed that this project of mine interests so many that I meet. People who seem to appreciate it the most are people who work in the field. This is their 24/7/365 and, yet, they admire and appreciate me. It's all remarkable and reminds me that, though I don't know how this story will end, my journey is grand - truly, grand!