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Wreaths Across America Veterans Honors Veterans

Concho, Arizona cemetery holds true to honoring veterans

E J Ernie Reinert held his head up high. His Garrison hat with the words Concho, AZ and the American Legion emblazoned in gold, is stitched onto the black fabric. It tilted forward, and it wasn’t because of the sun at 10 AM that will predictably rise every year at the same time and the same place. In recognition of America’s veterans, Wreaths Across America shows up across the country, too, as part of the gratitude train … from coast-to-coast, town-to-town the wreaths chugged along until they rested on the graves of many veterans. Concho is in this loop.

Death whispered on that day. Across a piece of the Concho, Arizona plains where the American flag flapped against the soft wind, the memories were resurrected assuring the soldiers who died during service, or after, that they were remembered during the national Wreaths Across America event on December 16th. On that day, they were decorated once again. Open and gregariously for a moment it showed in the voices that we may have strolled upon, as both the veterans in the ground, and those still walking on their paths, were heard.

The wreaths arrived, all 18 of them, in a vehicle. One-by-one they were taken out of the boxes. They were sheltered and, gently removed, then placed on the resting places of veterans in the Concho Catholic Cemetery. Concho has a habit of remembering good people. Honor is always a plus here. This cemetery is a simple drive along a winding dirt road off 180A; pass over two cattle guards and the markers begin to appear. It’s the kind of road that makes you question your car tires when you leave. As flags shadowed the graves, the veterans and their friends kept their heads down. They faced the earth and inhaled the dirt that blew in from across their yards to sit on top of the bones of many unforgotten soldier’s graves. About forty veterans are buried in this lot of land that will gift the wanderers across the hills with a huge sky. Another gift from the Concho landscape is the San Rafael Church that gives the burial plot for free to anyone who needs to be buried here. Teresa Trujillo, the church secretary said, “The cost is having a gravesite opened. One mercy of the Catholic Church is to bury the dead. It’s an act of faith.”

Marvin Warrior is a chaplain and “Disability Pastor,” and like the other veterans here today, is with the American Legion Post 130 in Concho. He provides shelter for some homeless in St. John’s, the next town past Concho. Everyone is connected in Apache County especially with route 60 that weaves through and into Show Low.

Protectors of life and the country who served in most of the eight branches of service were there. The wreaths were ceremoniously announced, and placed onto the stands that represent the Code Talkers, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard and POW’s Mia’s. I was humbled. I could never rise to the generosity of this group who went and put their lives on the line for the freedoms that I sadly have taken for granted. I’m working on that.

Lesa Ward, held a wreath closely to her then placed it on the tombstone of a veteran. That veteran was a part of her in that moment as she reflected on the loss of so many decades ago.

They gathered in the commonality that by serving their country, they are able to be free. They went to different wars and military situations to keep Americans safe from losing freedoms to express themselves, practice a religion of their choice, and to travel the world at their discretion.

Medals decorated their suits. Some for jumping out of planes, over-and-over again like retired Colonel Jerry Hunsicker. They spoke about PTSD. They remembered the stories that were horrific enough to turn some into addicts after witnessing some atrocities, as it became too hard to remember to forget. The hats seemed to stay on their heads. The winds were not strong enough to carry them away. They talked about two women who were buried in the cemetery that were once in Ted Dominquez’s life; his wife and sister. Both had served in the military. He was a marine for six-years. “During the forgotten war,” he says … “Korea, 65,000 killed.”

Commander Skip Higginson told me that next year they will be coordinating the ceremony to include the neighboring towns of St. John’s, Eager, and Springerville. The brother/sisterhood is real. Veterans know the life that includes the experiences of war. Some return in tact; some don’t. An impromptu discussion of addictions continued. They understand why some end up drinking and getting addicted.

Coming to terms with life, and going forward in death, can be interpreted as the longing we all have to stay in one place and to go ahead as we are perhaps destined to. The pain of loss lingers. It comes along at annual events that our soldiers and veterans in service and in life endure as they go forward. Loss of life, time, and the realization that the world is decent even when it is not, becomes their bond. They laughed at each other, they know each other. Concho’s American Legion Post 130 is more than Valentine’s Day dances and Christmas parties during the year. It’s the loving act of clearing off tombstones of those who sacrificed their time, and it’s installing a ramp at their own expense to a veteran who recently lost his leg. It’s the moments that they spend saluting each other during formal protocols and looking into each other knowing, always knowing, that they understand what they went through, and always will. It’s the forever bond that they share as each car drives up the curved, dusty road of the Concho Catholic Cemetery to remember, and look at the buried soldiers who made sacrifices as their medals of valor shined in the morning sun.

© 2018 Kareena Maxwell

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