Traditions older than the Nation’s Oldest City
By Michael Isam
Special to Historic City News
There is a truth that traces its roots to the first trained armies. Soldiers do as soldiers have learned. Carry out your objective quickly, completely, and with as few casualties as possible.
In this case, the objective was to remove the wreaths decorating the 1218 graves in the St. Augustine National Cemetery. The wreaths were placed in a solemn ceremony on December 14, 2013 as part of the annual “Wreaths Across America” project.
More than 30 people, veterans and civilian, took on the task in daunting atypical Florida weather. The wind-chill factor read 31 degrees. Casualty rate: zero.
Broom and rake handles, rope, and a metal pipe or two were the implements of choice. One disabled veteran used his cane. Overall, the most popular was the forearm. In the typical efficient military fashion, the job was done in less than 45 minutes versus the hour-plus to disburse them. The dumpsters on the side street filled in short time and the remaining wreaths were stacked in typical neat-nick military fashion.
Of all the graves in the cemetery, one stood out. The grave was specially adorned with a Teddy Bear and flower decoration. What made it special among the rest? The boy interred was 10-years-old when he died.
“It will stay there until I feel compelled to remove it,” said Roy Battell; a retired US Army sergeant major who served for 37 years, asked about the future of the Teddy Bear. “Every year, around the child’s birthday, a flower arrangement and a toy appear.”
Battell, who is the St Augustine National Cemetery grounds-keeper, observes that there is always someone who feels strongly about each person interred. He said that he does what he can to help them make their memories last.
Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News contributed photograph by Michael Isam