April 19th-Easter Sunday
Today about 100 feet along the road from Brian Kennedy’s grave, I find two more who died during the first two days of Iraq War—one a marine who died in the same accidental helicopter crash as Brian Kennedy and the second a navy lieutenant who died in a second accidental helicopter crash on the second day of the war.
Jay Thomas Aubin, Major
US Marine Corps
Persian Gulf Iraqi Freedom
“Our sweet pea”
Died at age 36-second of first four killed in this war
Thomas Mullen Adams
LT. US Navy
Persian Gulf Iraqi Freedom
“He’s just pining”
Died at age 28 – one of soldiers killed on 2nd day of war
No one is at these graves when I arrive. Recreating bicyclists and joggers pass by on road at top of ridge. I note it is low tide. Note new grass germinating on grave of Brian Kennedy since last week. Also, a new potted pink tulip tipped over near his head stone. I sketch near the new dead with my back against the head stone of another Vietnam dead: Thomas Frederickson Bruck, 1935-1966, SRK.
Mockingbirds churl in the nearby trees. A dull buzz of machinery noise emanates from the military docks below in the harbor; and, I hear planes taking off from the more distant North Island Naval Air Station to the south across the bay entrance. Only one other woman is in the graveyard. She is dressed in a black business suit and has parked her recreational vehicle along the cemetery loop road near the ridge top. I see her first searching, then finding, then standing silently at the grave of her loved one.
I pray for guidance from these war dead as I look off to the Mexican mountains on the southern horizon. I think ‘there is no way to know whether these Iraqi War dead were courageous or merely victims at their death.” We can be fairly certain the Iraq dead died obeying orders in a military they had joined voluntarily unlike the majority of the Vietnam dead. Sadly, it appears from my last two visits, that these recent dead are being visited/honored by few other than close family. I wonder at our national embarrassment at visiting those who have died in our wars.
I discover another Vietnam Vet, Michael Hart, U.S. Navy, died 1979, at age 40. Because of his age I cannot conclude whether he died in the war or after he returned from duty.
The woman in the black car leaves and I am alone again.
A second black recreational vehicle pulls up beside the two now graves of the Iraqi dead. Two women emerge from the car (one old & one young) and walk off to honor an older grave—oblivious to the new heroes. Perhaps because I am here, they notice the new graves when they return to their car.
I find myself apprehensive that those coming to visit the graves particularly of the Iraq dead will find my presence offensive. I decide generally it would not be a good idea to talk to people visiting the cemetery about my project. After all I do not know these dead men—I am not a part of their family—and after all my purpose (seeking inspiration for human reconciliation) is not what they believe in (I think).
Next a Hispanic family comes to visit the grave of their grandfather nearby. They too notice the graves as they walk back to their car.
Finally, a young woman in a pink sweater and sunglasses arrives to mourn and honor the grave of Thomas Adams. Thank you God! A second man (much older) also in pink arrives to offer his condolence to the woman then leaves after awhile. I notice the woman stays and appears to be very connected with the dead man. I suddenly feel the desire to bring flowers with me to these graves at my next visit.
I finish my sketch and decide to break through my apprehension and embarrassment and decide to talk to the woman at Thomas’s grave. She tells me she was an old friend. She says they had been apart for and she had been waiting for him to come back to California. I ask her if se can tell me something about him. She immediately responds very unexpectedly and without hesitating saying “He was a Dwork!” I ask her which of the dead he was and she says the 7th, but first naval officer. I am surprised by her “Dwork” comment but realize it is the response of someone who loved this man and just couldn’t believe he died before coming back.
I drive out of the cemetery by the grave of Brian Kennedy and the pink tulips in the pot are now righted and a new Easter lily sits beside it.