I finally got around to visiting my folks' grave this afternoon while running errands with Steve. They were buried, both urns together, in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. For those not familiar, it's located between MSP airport and the 494 freeway.
I remember it from the military ceremony (21 gun salute, flag presentation, etc.) as being huge, and called ahead for the grave location. Given a section and site number, I went online to view their map so I could follow the proper roadways to actually accomplish the task. Of course, the gate that would have made the route simple was closed. All I would have had to do was enter Gate 3 and take that road all the way to the loop at its end, then follow my mental picture of where in the loop section 27 was. To put that in scale, they switched to numbered sections after going through the alphabet, and then throwing in letter-number and number-letter combinations. (And FYI I got a tiny bit lost trying to leave. My changed mental map wasn't up to the job. Just what street had we come in on? Did you notice a name? No? Too busy looking for the way to the originally planned route, that one particular street name.)
No way was I ever in my life up to the task of wandering through that cemetery trying to track one grave down without a lot of information, and even with my new knees I was hoping that once I readjusted my mental street map to find the right section, locating their site would be self explanatory.
Ummm, not so much. After pulling over to park, all I saw was a block of rows and rows of grave markers. No row signs, no visible numbers, no clues to how it was organized. I snagged the attention of two people leaving and asked them what the trick was. The pair, consisting of a middle-aged woman and a teenager, were very willing to share. She had already utilized his youthful energy to hunt through the rows to locate their own family member. The trick is that, from the road, all the numbers are on the back of the stones. They sit in numerical order, across one row, then starting over across the next row, etc. It's still a hunt. Even in that "small" section, we didn't need to go too far back to find our stone relative to the section size. Our number was in the 900s so you can imagine the number of gravestones in just that section. Luckily, the teenager took our number and started going through the rows until he located it for me, not too far in from the left side boundary. After thanking them I trudged in with my camera. Steve declined the hike, waiting in the car for me.
Even knowing they were supposed to be buried together, I was surprised by how it was done. I found Mom first, as her name and information were on the back side of the stone with the locator number. I looked to both sides, thinking that a lot of cemeteries define "together" as side-by-side. That wasn't the way here. As I walked around the stone to the front, there was Daddy's, the soldier's, name and info. They truly were buried together, as they wanted.
It was also the only feasible way for Fort Snelling to accomplish it's task. Even though it went through all kinds of channels to expand a few years ago, it's running out of room.
I don't know how early the first soldiers were laid to rest there. We still have several wars worth of veterans alive, owed a free burial by our country for their service. And unfortunately, we're still making more. Way too many more. My Dad was one of the dwindling number of remaining WWII vets. Looking around for just a short space I found vets from Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and other places and times our men and women have served, though these were just the ones who died around the same time he did and were cremated. The rational part of my brain started filling in the data, taking over for the emotional part that was both awed and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. It kicked me in the gut when I first entered, grew as we drove further in, all the while being unable to see to the ends of the collection of gravestones. Section after section, up and down, back and forth, they were only dropping out of view when the land started sloping. It never ended.
It looks like it never will.
And this is only one regional military cemetery!