A day for remembering: Young and old, they came to honor veterans who died (with slideshow)

A day for remembering: Young and old, they came to honor veterans who died (with slideshow)

May 28th, 2013 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

A large crowd leaves the Memorial Day program Monday at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Catherine Smith walks through a row of American veterans Monday at Chattanooga National Cemetery. "I have my father, uncles and church members here in this place," Smith said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Cars snaked in like a funeral procession, the line curved all the way around the cemetery's gates. One right after the other, many with bumper stickers apt for the occasion.

"Team USA"

"POW-MIA"

"God Bless America"

Hundreds made their way over the neatly manicured lawns of Chattanooga National Cemetery, dotted with flowers of pink, blue, red and yellow. On Memorial Day, the park was filled with more Old Glory than a person could count.

Lively barbecues and pool parties are synonymous with Memorial Day. But so are solemn services remembering the dead. At Arlington National Cemetery, President Barack Obama commemorated those lost long ago, but reminded the crowd that more than 60,000 Americans still are risking their lives in Afghanistan.

In Chattanooga, politicians spoke under the hot morning sun to honor veterans and their families at the annual Chattanooga Area Veterans Council's Memorial Day program.

The crowd was made up of people of all ages. They came in wheelchairs, with walkers, aboard strollers or on top of dad's shoulders.

They joined the Choo Choo Chorus in singing an a cappella version of "God Bless America." And volunteers handed flowers out to those who had lost loved ones during or after service.

They stood not far from the crypts of more than 51,000 veterans and family members that fill the cemetery. Last year, the bodies or ashes of more than 1,100 were laid to rest here. Too many to name aloud, as had been the tradition.

"It's this special place that makes our solemn day even more meaningful," Mayor Andy Berke said in his address.

"This place reminds us of the best of us," he said, "not just on Memorial Day, but every day."

Vietnam War veteran Malcolm Plaster said this day is a time to remember not only those who have died, but those who survived times of war.

"If you want to see the cost of freedom go to the VA hospital with me some time," he said. "There's scars that never heal."

Karen Brooks, 56, touches her fathers name as she sits at the Chattanooga National Cemetery Monday. "I get peace just sitting here talking to him," Brooks said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Plaster served two years, nine months and 26 days, but he has stayed involved in the military community through the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He thinks patriotism has gone weak, that it's not taught in schools as it used to be. He worries about the future.

But looking at the thousands of perfectly aligned headstones, he backtracks a little. He said that if called upon again, the American people will answer.

"They always have," he said. "Always will."

While many only come to this graveyard once a year, people like Barbara Jones-Glaze know it well.

Her father is buried up on the hill. And her husband's ashes are buried a little way down on flat land.

Her father served in World War II. He brought home a bloodied Japanese flag and scraped the mud off his boots as a souvenir. She remembers an album. He would turn over pictures of hanged Nazis so that the kids wouldn't see them when they looked through the book.

Military runs in her family.

Her husband was permanently disabled in the Vietnam War, she said. She came on Monday as part of the Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives, groups that include those whose children or spouses died while on active duty in the military services or as the result of a military service. The groups fight for benefits for veterans and their families.

"Most of us nursed our husbands, cared for them while we worked and reared our children," Jones-Glaze said.

Monday's commemoration ended as gatherings at this place often do.

Heads bowed in prayer. Then a 21-gun salute. And the eerie noise of a lone bugle sounding taps.

Visitors slowly dispersed. Some went straight for the shade of their cars, as others wove in and out of the maze of white headstones looking for the markers of loved ones.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or khardy@timesfreepress.com.