Ask the Undertaker

Memorial Day Remembrance

“It was hot in April 1942 when more than 75 thousand of us, starving, dehydrated, ill and/or emaciated began a march of nearly 80 miles through the tropical heat of the Philippines. Despite the poor conditions, the Japanese command calculated this to only last 3 days.  They obviously took this to heart as they drove us prisoners through the tropical heat, being relentless of meeting that command. As my fellow comrades, one by one, fell behind, complained, paused for a brief filling of their canteen for water or even looked at a Japanese soldier, they would be bayoneted, shot or murdered immediately. Rifle-butt beatings and bayonettings were common, much for simple fun and no reason at all. After what was to take 3 days, lasted one whole week, and resulted in 18,000 – 20,000 of my fellow companions murdered, we reached the Camp that we would remain in for the next two months.” Shortly after his camp was liberated, this gentleman (who requested to be anonymous) was honorably discharged and moved back to Maryland and is now residing in Easton, Md., where he retired with his wife.

Or take for example, Mr. Ronald Williams, a highly ranked captain in the Air Force, who served as pilot for, among others, presidents of our country. I was fortunate to hear a representative from Arlington National Cemetery, share this with his wife: The chaplain leaned over to Mrs. Doris Williams at her husband’s funeral at Arlington and said: “Mrs. Williams, do you see those six individuals marching behind the band? Those individuals are there to pay tribute to something that your husband did during his service to our country. You will never know what that exactly was, but as you can see it was something that deserved this special recognition.”

Undertakers are blessed in having the opportunity to learn from these real-life situations and how our veterans committed their lives to provide freedom for you and me. Stories such as these are but a few of the many that have been shared while helping families heal after a loss of a loved one. Fortunately, for us all, Memorial Day each May marks a time to pay tribute to those who have given their lives and gone before us.

Nationally honoring those who gave their lives for this country could be said to have started with President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. After hundreds of thousands perished in the battles between North and South, it wasn’t until July 17, 1862, Congress empowered Lincoln “to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” This was the very first U.S. legislation to define and solidify the concept of a national cemetery and begin what we refer today to as veteran’s benefits. Annapolis National Cemetery, located on Taylor Avenue and West Street, was the second national cemetery to have been created in 1862. Since then, more benefits have been added to provide for the proper burial for those who have served our country.

Today, those veterans who have been discharged or separated from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable, and have completed the required period of services, died on active duty, and spouses and dependent children of a veteran are all eligible to receive veteran burial benefits. This includes burial in a veteran’s cemetery, headstone or marker or burial at sea. For the veterans only, eligibility for a United States burial flag, presidential memorial certificate, military honors and sometimes reimbursement toward a portion of the burial expenses are in addition to the burial benefits.

So we take this last Sunday in May as a reminder that families, friends, and even our neighbors may be experiencing grief and mourning. Let this day be a reminder to knock on the door of a friend that experienced a loss this year and ask if they’d like a hot meal together or maybe a simple cup of coffee. Ask about their loved one, ask how they gave to this country and ask what they will remember most about the one they so loved. Use this day as a start of something great, a day to pay tribute to the veterans who laid their lives on the line for you and me.

Ryan, owner, supervising mortician and preplanning counselor at Lasting Tributes on Bestgate Road in Annapolis, offers solutions to high-cost funerals. He can be reached at 410.897.4852 or Ryan@Lasting








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