Lessons from a Veteran’s Grave

Veterans' Memorial at Rosewood Cemetery
Veterans’ Memorial at Rosewood Cemetery

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and I thought I would revive a story I told several years ago because it really helps explain why I write. For me, writing presents an opportunity to make a difference. The difference may be as simple as making someone’s day a little brighter through an entertaining story, or it may be much deeper than that, the story’s words causing someone to think about an issue for the first time or to see an issue from a new perspective.

Although some opportunities are ever present, the ones that make a difference are often fleeting. If you don’t seize them, they are lost to history as “what might have been.” I’d like to illustrate this point with a personal story—an opportunity lost that both saddens and motivates me to this day.

When my son, now a first-year Cadet at West Point, was in the fifth grade, we joined men and women from a local Veteran’s organization on Memorial Day to decorate Veterans’ graves with American Flags. My son and I were carefully putting out Flags along a row of graves when a man approached me and said his father was a Veteran and was buried under a nearby tree. He asked me for a Flag so he could place it on the grave. As the ground was quite dry, it was not possible to simply stick a Flag in the soil – it required a tool that makes a hole in the dirt. Rather than take the time to walk with the man right then and there, I assured him my son and I would put a Flag on his father’s grave, which we did shortly thereafter. I missed an opportunity that day to honor a Veteran with his son, and to show my own son the importance of stepping out of the pattern to serve other people.

Almost every year since then I have set out Flags on Memorial Day at that same cemetery, hoping the man will reappear and give me another chance to walk with him to his father’s grave and set out a Flag together. Unfortunately, he’s never been back and my opportunity is gone forever.

This story drives me to write because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make a difference, even if it is a small one. One missed opportunity story is enough for a lifetime.

The site of my lost opportunity.
The site of my lost opportunity.
Veterans' Graves
Veterans’ Graves