Journal Entry for Sketch #5
April 12, 2003: Palm Sunday
Slowly the logic of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery reveals itself to me. My first several visits found me wandering through the gravestones looking for those who had died during our wars. There is a truncated language here which reveals itself only slowly to observation, intuition, and logic. Some wars have special logos on the stones, e.g. Spanish American War. Many stones have religious logo e.g. Cross in a circle = Christian, Star of David in a circle = Jewish.
Wives buried with their husbands are listed on the backs of the stones. Usually the branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, etc.) and rank are given. Almost always the war(s) fought in are listed, although not always as noted for Vietnam.
I keep looking for soldiers who died in action, first scanning birth and death dates on gravestones, later going to the record books at the Visitor Center to try to match dates of death with war dates:
Finally, I see “KIA” on a stone and realize this means Killed in Action.
Initially, I wander through areas figuring the dead are buried by war. But then I realize that graves are arranged by date of death and therefore there is generally a mixture of soldiers who fought from several wars in each area who all died at the same time. In addition, because the cemetery is now nearly full more recent deaths are having to be squeezed in along the edges of earlier graves in order to honor them. I read in the paper that some of the Iraq War dead are being buried here but I have no idea where or even their names. I suspect they are being squeezed in at dispersed locations around the cemetery, so they will be difficult to locate.
I decide that traditional rational research is not helping me find these graves so I make a decision to use only my intuition to locate them. Initially I drive through the cemetery looking for fresh graves knowing the Iraq dead were recently buried, but I find none. Then I am “lead” to the southwestern corner of the cemetery by my intuition and there right beside the road is a single fresh grave. The dead soldier is Brian Mathew Kennedy KIA Iraq one of the first four soldiers to die on March 20, 2003 only three weeks before. The grave is still fresh with only grass seed covering its surface. I realize he wasn’t here when I first visited the cemetery.
CPL US Marines
Persian Gulf Iraqi Freedom
KIA Purple Heart
“son and brother”
25 years old at death – one of first four killed in this war
I later find out that he died in an accidental helicopter crash at the Kuwait border before even getting into Iraq and that he was buried in San Diego because this is where his unit came from, although he was from Houston, Texas.
As I sit down to sketch by the grave, two young boys come by and want to know who I am. They say they are putting flowers on the graves. I tell them I am an artist sitting with the dead listening for messages; but I have already decided not to go into details about my project in order to avoid upsetting any relatives. However, the boys keep wanting me to tell them what I am drawing. I tell them I do not know. Gradually they come to understand that it is not for me to say. One calls himself “Lucas” but he prefers to be called “Luke”, perhaps from the Bible.
After I finish the sketch I wander around Brian’s grave. In the same row as Brian I find:
No war noted but probably died in Vietnam at age 26
PFC CO A-1 BN
173 ABN BDE
Probably died in Vietnam at age 19
Two rows up I find:
PFC CO C 25 INF DIV
Born two days after Nagasaki nuclear bombing, probably died in Vietnam at age 18.