Memorial Day means more than the unofficial start to summer, a three-day weekend, cooking out and camping.
Its true meaning is a time when we honor the men and women who fallen in the line of service, representing the United States in times of military conflict – from the War for Independence to the Middle Eastern conflicts.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m out and about celebrating that start of summer, enjoying the three-day weekend. In fact, Lisa and I are using the time off for a quick getaway.
But, I also ensure I pause to remember and give my thanks to my fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen who don’t get to enjoy the time like we do.
While family and friends take flowers to the graves of loved ones, almost 125,000 Americans are buried on foreign soil.
American military cemeteries are located in 25 countries. The most famous, by far, is Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. The next likely is the cemetery in the Normandy area in France. It was the site of D-Day June 6, 1944.
I had the honor of visiting the American Military Cemetery in Manila, The Philippines, during a work assignment. The cemetery is home to the remains of military members who fought in the Pacific Theater.
I was hoping to get there before any ceremonies were held and the flag lowered to half-staff at noon. Unfortunately, the official ceremony honoring the men and women had taken place the day before.
However, wreathes were still on display. There were wreathes from the Filipino government, as well as other nations, including Australia. Even civic groups presented wreathes. One such group was a Native American business association.
The grounds were in in immaculate condition – well-groomed and clean. I believe all military cemeteries are kept in this condition. It is the least our government can do for those who surrendered their futures for the rest of us.
The memorial section of the cemetery was truly impressive.
There are two sections, each identical size, built in half-circle design.
Inside each section are mosaic maps of battle areas, walls with the names of the dead. The floors have the seals of each state and US territory.
In the middle of the memorial grounds are well-groomed trees.
A chapel is positioned near the memorial entrance.
Encircling the memorial are the grave sites of more than 17,200 military members, including about 500 from The Philippines and other Allied nations.
Each grave is marked by a white cross in 11 plots. The plots form a circular pattern around the memorial.
Each military member buried has his/her name, state, unit and date of death listed. If the person was unidentified, the grave marker says it is known to their God.
When I saw my first unknown soldier marker, it made me appreciate that person even more. Sadly, their family back home never really got the chance to say good bye.
The rows with the graves maintained military protocol and stand in perfect formation, making a hemi circle over the grounds.
The grounds are so well maintained. The landscape work is beautiful. Trees, plants, bushes and flowers are located throughout the cemetery grounds. Again, it’s the least we can do for these men and women.
While I was honored to visit the cemetery, I acknowledged the sacrifices these men and women made. If you get the opportunity to visit a military cemetery, please stop and pay your respects.
If you are interested in learning more about military cemeteries, please visit the American Battle Monuments Commission at www.abmc.gov.
A short drive from the American military cemetery is the Filipino Heroes Cemetery.
The Heroes Cemetery is home to soldiers. many of whom died during the Battle of Bataan and the battles for Corregidor Island. It is also home to several politicians and martyrs.
It is home to the Filipino “Unknown Soldier.”
The cemetery honors the nation’s heroes, but the grounds are not maintained like the American Military cemetery.
The military graves are marked with simple white crosses, all in line.
The politicians’ grave sites are much more elaborate. They are spread out, separated from the military graves. I believed you could bury up to 10 or 12 soldiers in some politicians’ sites.
Arturo Tolentino has an area where visitors can sit and view the marble art work around his grave site. Tolentino was vice president in 1986 under former leader Ferdinand Marcos. They were ousted in a coup.
Prior to that time, Tolentino served in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Other notable figures buried at the cemetery include former Presidents Carlos Garcia and Disodado Macapagal.
A notable exception is the grave site of Ferdinand Marcos. Filipino presidents since the coup have refused to let his body be buried at the cemetery, based on the corruption that occurred during his tenure. His body lies in a mausoleum in a northern province in The Philippines.
I appreciated getting a firsthand look at the Filipino Heroes Cemetery.
Both cemeteries gave me the opportunity to appreciate the sacrifices made by men and women from all over the world.