Every year, hundreds of volunteers walk the grounds of the Riverside National cemetery as part of the ‘Flag for Every Hero’ event in honor of Memorial Day. Since 2012, volunteers fan out and place a mini American flag at the graves of every service member buried there. This year, this act in honor our military’s heroes has a deeper meaning for me and my family.
Riverside National Cemetery, located within Riverside County and across the interstate from March Air Reserve Base, is the largest of the 155 national cemeteries maintained and administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration. It was established in 1976 following the transfer of acreage from March Air Force Base. It opened for burials at the end of 1978. Today, it is the busiest of the national cemeteries, and at time of writing, about 250000 service men and women are interred at the site. One of them is my father.
My dad was buried at Riverside National Cemetery following a ceremony with full military honors in 2021. As hard as it was to lose him, having a military burial made the process at least logistically easier. The person working with us at the cemetery was very kind and super helpful, and the ceremony itself went smoothly. The only thing that ‘went wrong’ so to speak, was the fact that Dad’s hearse was about 20 minutes late getting to the cortege due to delays at the funeral home, so he was late to his own funeral. He’d have gotten a kick out of that. My mother was notorious for making him late to just about everything, and after close to four decades of her making him late, he finally made her wait. I am thankful that we could laugh even in the depths of grief. I’d like to think that Dad was laughing with us from his place in heaven.
I am thankful to live in a nation where we may honor our veterans, people who have given their lives in service to our country. While we may not do so perfectly, still I am thankful. Riverside National is beautiful and peaceful, and I am glad that Dad could have his final resting place there among his fellow service members. The kids and I visit from time to time, bringing sprigs of lavender and rosemary, herbs symbolizing remembrance, along with a small bag of cheese puff balls- something that he enjoyed in life, especially as we sat around as a family, sharing stories and laughing together during holidays. Entwined in the grief that I feel even over a year later, I feel gratitude and love.
As I look on the field of flags, each one symbolizing a life of service, of someone who had people who love them and miss them still, I wish comfort and peace for every family represented here. To our veterans, both present and who have passed, may we be thankful for what they have given to this nation, that we might live in relative peace and opportunity. To their families, may we be thankful too- for every sacrifice, tough good bye, joyous welcome home- because they too have given much.
With love from a forever ‘Army brat,’ have a restful and blessed Memorial Day.
If you are struggling on this Memorial Day, you don’t have to do it alone. Please reach out to someone- a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or member of the clergy. Grief and loss bring out some tough and even conflicting feelings. Honest talk over favorite beverages with your person can help. For more help, see the resources below:
For information on Riverside National Cemetery and source info, check out:
Riverside National Cemetery