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September 12, 2017

Two simple pillars of brick standing tall announce the entrance into a very noble place—a place of honor. Beyond the pillars, tucked away deep into the country side away from the hustle of traffic exists a place of peace—final peace.   Driving along the pristine road lined with the beauty and tapestry of trees and bushes stands a sign which reads “Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.” Its appearance is as simple and noble as the pillars that stood at the entrance.

There, up ahead a short distance, alabaster head stones all aligned in perfect order begin to come into view. They are engraved with the names of our Nation’s heroes for they are, in my heart, all heroes. As if standing at attention, over
47,000 [as of the date this was written] honorable defenders of our Nation who have been laid to rest, welcome their brothers and sisters five days a week as the procession of family members and friends, be it a few or several, accompany their loved ones and enter these grounds as their final resting place of honor.

On this day, September 12, 2017, the early morning air is clean and brisk with a hint of fall hidden in the passing breeze. The leaves on the tress are beginning to give up their vibrant greens and in the following weeks surrender to gold, reds and every shade in between as this place of peace becomes alive with those new colors reflecting hope and the perseverance of our Country. On this day, and every day, we continue to honor those Veterans resting here and are grateful to those who are now defending our Country.

But today, on this day, here at The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery it is a different day than usual. This is a special day that happens once every three months. It is a day called a Direct Burial. This early morning started with a special ceremony where the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad stood at attention to honor twenty of our nations veterans who had been buried at the cemetery during the past three months having had no one present to honor them; no one here to pay them the respect that they so deserved after having served this Country. They were the homeless, or they were service men with no family representation. No one present as their final resting place was made for them—no one present to say their names out loud. But on this day— each veterans name is spoken out loud and they are whole once again.

After each name was announced a bell rang out and I couldn’t help but think that each one of them was shouting in silence, “I was here, I existed, I was once young and alive, able and strong, and now I am finally at peace.”  I closed my eyes as the names of all twenty veterans were called. I tried to imagine what brought them here to this place alone without anyone to accompany them. I tried to imagine what hopes and dreams were never realized as each name passed through my heart. How alone each one of them must have felt in their final hours.

An empty casket which represented those hero’s was draped with our Nations flag. It was then folded with respect and honor as it is for every veteran and then presented to the person chosen to hold it dear to them forever. Taps played in the distance as a slight breeze started to flutter the flags lining the side of the shelter where people gathered. A rifle volley was then fired paying homage to our Nations defenders.

Then — a moment of silence.

They served our Nation and they were all a part of our Nation’s history, as all who served whether buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery or at another final resting place as my father, father-in-law, uncles, brother-in-law, and nephew. So this day, several people gathered. There were representatives from The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad who rendered those honors. On this day there were  Freedom Riders, VFW Posts, American Legion posts, as well as others who wanted to attend and pay their respects and honor these brothers in arms who fought for the Freedom that so many of us seem to take for granted.

We say their names once again and they are whole.

There are 135 National Cemetery’s within the United States and The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, located near Elwood Illinois, is one of the largest, resting on 982 acres. John Whiteside (reporter for the Herald News) and U.S Representative George Sangmeister were instrumental in forming The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Squad.  It was dedicated October 3rd, 1999, the 117th National Cemetery to have the privilege of being a final resting place for our service men and women. This place of honor, peace and serenity can eventually cradle 500,000 of our Nations Hero’s.

You can respect them by visiting these peaceful grounds, or any of the other National Cemeteries, and by saying their names out loud once again. Those buried here are, after all, a great part of why we remain a free nation.

Thank you to The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad who volunteers their time: who honors those Veterans or fallen active duty hero’s at the time of their final resting place with dignity, honor and respect—rain or shine.

Thank a Service Man or Woman when you see them.

Thank a Veteran who served this Nation.    
It only takes a minute of your time but your words will last a lifetime to those you thank.

— Mary Donahue
September 12, 2017
Illustrated by Dawn Evans