Outdoors with Jim Collins: Veterans Day -- 2012 -- Part I
It is always a heartfelt sight for me and a supreme honor when I take the annual walk in the Alba Cemetery on Veterans Day to pay reverence, respect and honor the graves of our United States Military veterans who are interred there. The cemetery is right behind our house, an easy walk thru our modest woods. Seeing the flags next to each grave and observing them striking in the breeze, always causes me to pause, salute, kneel in silent prayer and remember our comrades in arms. It is an event that always brings me to tears; I freely admit to that. If you are not from a military family you will never know this feeling. My best friends are those men and women who have worn "the uniform." You can trust their word, which is their bond. I have never been disappointed in their conduct and their morals. I continue to support our military today.
On Monday, November 12, 2012, I took another such journey to the Alba Cemetery. This year, Hurricane Sandy torn asunder many United States flags which fly over each United States Military veteran's grave. It is an honor and duty for me to make sure that the flags are posted upright. It is the very least that I can do for our veterans. Various military organizations decorate with flags, each Memorial Day. Thanks folks for this service to our veterans.
This year there are many flags and the markers that they are posted upon that have been twisted and in some cases actually torn from their places. I have never quite seen this sight before. The flags were replaced on about 10 graves; several flags were on the ground, a no no for an American flag. After searching twice, and not being able to find the standard on which one flag should be mounted, I decided the best and honorable place to put in was in our insurance/planter sign in the front yard. It was a great choice; to me honoring the unknown soldier/sailor upon whose grave it was torn from. I will remember that flag each day that I live. I observed a brief moment of silence and remembrance. When you drive by our house on Windfall Road in Alba, you will know why that flag is there and the story behind it.
Did you know that less than 3 percent of current Americans have ever served in the United States Military? I was somewhat shocked to learn that stat. When I was growing up, military service was considered a viable option to college or trade school. It was honorable to serve your country.
There are at least six military veterans interred in the Alba Cemetery that I have been privileged to know since I moved to Alba in l982. They all served during World War II. They are; Grant Palmer, James Matson, Larry Matson, Robert Matson, Duard Clark and William Aston. I knew each of these fellows. It is interesting to me that none of them ever discussed their military service. It is my honor to have known each of these men and learned only after their death of their service. I hope to have a future column regarding each of these men.
When I moved to Alba in late August 1982, I observed a cemetery worker removing American flags from the graves. I asked him what he was doing. He replied that he took down the flags on Labor Day.
I sternly told him to leave the flags intact; I would watch over them and remove the flags when they no longer were suitable to fly over the graves. He obeyed my request. Each winter, I find a few flags no longer intact. They are removed and delivered to the American Legion Post 303 in Canton for a ceremonial burning. It is my honor to do so. In remembrance the monthly walk is spiritual for me.
A few thoughts for you from my memory bank that you may appreciate knowing about. When I was a lad growing up in Williamsport, we had a military parade each Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. I remember asking my dad during one of those parades, "Who are those soldiers Dad?" I will never forget his answer. "Son, those are not just soldiers, they are Marines." I learned much later, what he meant. My Marine buddies always smile when I relate that story to them.
I also remember and have a few pictures when our family had a graveside service for my uncle, Vincent Joseph Collins, who died during World War II, at Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport. The only picture that I saw of Uncle Vincent at the time was at my grandmother's house in Williamsport. He was pictured in a fishing boat with two 5 pound plus bass. Sure wish I could have known him. Grandma Collins only talked about her oldest son once when I asked her some questions. I learned not to ask any more. At the time, I did not know her pain of losing her son in combat. Later, upon my mother's death, we found a picture of my grandmother, Helen Collins, and her children, Vincent, Edward and their sister Dorothy. It is a treasured photograph proudly displayed in our double living room.
Jim Collins is an outdoor columnist for The Sunday Review. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by mail at Outdoors with Jim Collins, HC, 1; Box 60; Alba, Pa. 16910.