Donate search
close

Share

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • send Email
  • print Print

Visit a National Cemetery on Memorial Day

You don’t have to visit a grave on Memorial Day, but one such holiday I encourage you to visit a National Cemetery. See the flags marking each grave. See the families visiting loved ones. See the stillness of the moment.

This Memorial Day I went to the closest National Cemetery to me in New Orleans: at Chalmette, site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, where General Andrew Jackson led a motley army in throwing back a British assault on the Gateway to the Mississippi.

Chalmette is an odd National Cemetery. A little east of New Orleans proper, and founded to inter the dead of the Civil War. Thus, it’s a small national cemetery dominated by Union dead in the Deep South. Though it is on a battlefield of the War of 1812 there are few such veterans buried there.

Sure, there are Louisianian veterans who died in later wars as well, but the Civil War graves dominate the grounds. And being of the blue and not the grey, not mention mostly over a century old, there weren’t but a handful of visitors as I spent an hour or so in the sultry 90 degree heat of the Gulf South summer that is already upon us.

It made for better pictures though, which I share here as a window into this National Cemetery visit, in photo essay form. Follow the journey in the captions, and stay to the end:

The rows always get me, even at this comparatively small national cemetery. Row after row after row of the victorious dead.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
This being New Orleans there are incredible live oak trees too. You can almost see the warm blanket of humidity in the air, let alone feel it. Oh, and there’s some low-grade flooding too. It had been a dry week in the Big Easy and the water looking back toward the cemetery entrance here was still up to the curb along the drive.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
U.S.C.T. “United States Colored Troops.” Lots of these fellows from the Civil War here. Men who went to war knowing they would be killed or returned to slavery if captured. Heroes.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
One of four graves here for a veteran of the War of 1812.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Simple stones with the number of the grave, marking unknown Union soldiers.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
He came a long way to fight and die.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Live oak trees are among the most beautiful things in the Deep South. They prosper near the coast in this tropical weather. And here, towering over the graves, they remind us there is beauty in life, even amidst death.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Another War of 1812 grave. I had to wait a while for the wind to kick-up so the flag wasn’t blocking most of this gravestone. 

Because no, I wasn’t touching that flag. I only touched one that day. It had fallen over and was resting on the ground. I replanted it to honor the man in that grave. May he rest in peace.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Dum Tacent Clamant. “While they are silent, they cry aloud.” They do indeed.

Footnote: yes, that’s a levee holding back the Mississippi River in the background. It’s running high this spring and the whole cemetery would be underwater otherwise.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
This marker was all by itself in one section. I wondered why. And then when I saw it…well, it was a moment. “Ninety-Five Unknown U.S. Soldiers.” My God.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Nature, reclaiming the tombs of the dead.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
Row upon row of simple graves, marked with numbers and “U.S. Soldier.” All unknown.

Photo by Eric Earling, Chalmette National Cemetery, May 27, 2019.
This picture wasn’t taken in New Orleans this year. This was in Washington State in 2015. I came upon this grave while walking among the dead, having come to visit a loved one. At more recently filled National Cemeteries one might see graves on Memorial Day with this red flag for KIA: Killed in Action. The truest purpose of Memorial Day is to honor them.

Some people who loved this man had done just that. They left tokens to mark their visit. Coins and a symbol of his unit on the gravestone. Flowers and flags to show their love. And a cigarette resting on an open can of Pabst.

Photo by Eric Earling, May 25, 2015 at Tahoma National Cemetery (WA).

The cigarette in the picture above was still smoking when came upon this memorial. I’ll never forget that.

And that’s why you should visit a National Cemetery sometime on Memorial Day. You too may find something you’ll never forget as well.

Share

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • send Email
  • print Print

Advertisement

More Top Stories

What Do Colleges Owe Us?

There is a column in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution questioning whether Georgia Tech has gotten “too elite” for the residents of Georgia. (You can read it here: https://www.ajc …

All They Had to Do Was Not be Crazy

Trump’s personal problems are myriad.  He is as polarizing a figure as Democrats could have ever hoped to have in office if they were forced to run against an incumbent president.  He’s …

Accept It: AOC is 100% Right About This

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been surprising a lot of people recently.  First, the talk of her considering a Senate primary challenge of Democrat institution Chuck Schumer.  T …