By Renita FosterMay 1, 2009
I always wondered about the connection between veterans and their fallen comrades they come back to cemeteries honor and remember. Take a Memorial Day ceremony a few years ago at Margraten American Cemetery in Holland. At its conclusion, I decided in the time I had left to walk through as many of the rows of heroes as possible-say their names, see where they were from. And just offer up a thank you, and let them know they are not, and will never be, forgotten.
I hadn't gone very far when an elderly woman came jostling by. She caught my attention for many reasons. She was dressed rather oddly in an old dress accompanied by a dated hat.
Despite the solemn occasion, she had a brilliant grin on her face. And although a senior citizen, there was a defiant spring in her step-definitely a lady with a purpose.
The most curious item of all was the huge bag she was carrying. I couldn't imagine what was in it, but I didn't have to wait long to find out.
She stopped about five markers down from me and began pulling various items out. The first was an old Army jacket that she lovingly placed around the horizontal arms of the cross.
Next, she spread out what had to be the most beautiful homemade quilt I'd ever seen, and then strategically placed various pieces of memorabilia about.
There were pictures and what looked like high school or college year books. There was even an old kewpie doll she brought out I thought the Soldier she was visiting must have won for her at some shooting gallery-she'd kept it all these years.
It was her next item that sent me and other onlookers looking for a handkerchief. It was a bottle of champagne that she held up and inspected; I had the feeling she'd done so many times; it had to be the right one or it didn't count. I thought surely it came from their wedding and she'd waited all these years for this moment.
She uncorked it, poured two glasses and made what I can only describe as an eloquent toast to "her hero." After placing his glass gently in front of the memorial, she seated herself for what would be a long afternoon visit.
That was the moment I knew: the lady was on a date! And then it all made sense. Her outfit was from the 1940s, and I imagined this must have been what she was wearing when they met, or maybe on their first date.
When she held up the pictures and talked about them I hoped they were of children, and that he'd had a chance to get to know them.
I found out later however, the young Soldier buried there was her fiancAfA. They never had the chance to marry, raise a family or grow old together. And while she had resumed her place in life (I was told she had a wonderful career and volunteered a lot of her time to the needy), she never again entered into another romantic relationship. It was simply enough for her to come back every year on Memorial Day. At last count, she's been keeping this date for the last 43 years, and I like believing she's there every Memorial Day.
There were other private memorial services held by visiting veterans throughout the cemetery that afternoon. I believe each and every conversation and prayer shared that day were heard by the living and those fallen Soldiers destined never to return home.