It was a humid day in high summer when Marine Mark B. had his shift at the Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery. He could not wait to finally call it a day and see his friends at a local grill. He glanced at his watch, trying not to draw too much attention to himself. It was five minutes to five.
But then, out of nowhere, a vintage car rolled slowly down the road towards the cemetery parking lot.
He watched an elderly woman getting out of the car. She was moving so slowly that he thought she must have had a stroke or was somehow otherwise physically impaired. She took her walking aide and several bunches of flowers out of her car and slowly made her way towards the entrance.
At that moment the Marine could not help but think some selfish thoughts:
“She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts … and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”
By this time of the day he was looking a little disheveled, he shared with The Daily Headline. The creases had all dropped out of his Marine full dress uniform due to the humidity, and he walked with a limp because of pain in his hip. But this Marine was dutiful as well and knew he had to serve his country that day by offering assistance to anyone who would show up at that gate that day.
He tried to walk over as gracefully as possible to the old lady. She looked at him with scrunched up eyes as he politely offered her his services.
“Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?” he said.
The elderly lady seemed to take an eternity to answer: “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers?”
The marine affirmed her request willingly—outwardly at least—and took the bunch of flowers.
She inspected him again thoroughly and finally asked, “Marine, where were you stationed?”
“Vietnam,” he replied. “’69 to ’71.”
The elderly lady noticed his limp and said, “Wounded in action, I see. Well done Marine, I’ll be as quick as I can.”
The Marine bit his lip. “No hurry, Ma’am,” he said.
The elderly lady knew where she wanted to go and navigated the Marine to the section dedicated to World War I.
The Marine now realized that the bunch of flowers was indeed not just one, but several. After picking one out she placed it on a tombstone engraved with “D.S. Davidson” who had died in 1918 in France.
She whispered something that could not be heard by anyone else but her.
She then located the section for World War II. She stopped in front of a grave and the Marine could see a single tear flowing over her cheek. He could feel her sorrow and pain as she stood in silence looking at the name written on the stone. It said “S. X. Davidson — United States Marine Corps.” The year was 1943.
She followed the rows and laid another bunch of flowers on a stone—this one remembering “S. J. Wieserman” who had rested there since 1944. He too had been a Marine.
She had two more graves to see, she told the patiently waiting Marine.
Next he directed her to the Vietnam section. “L. Wieserman” who had passed away in 1968 and “D. Wieserman” who died in 1970 were her last two stops.
She again stood and whispered something.
“Ok, son, I’m finished,” she said, asking the Marine to escort her back to her car.
The Marine was deeply touched by what he had witnessed and asked if those men were related to her.
She stopped and finally said, “Yes.”
They were her father, uncle, husband and two sons, she explained. They all were Marines and they all had died in combat.
Slowly, she made her way back to her car.
The Marine suddenly had an idea. He told his buddy Kevin, the second guard, to quickly drive round to the entrance down the service road so they could get there before she did. Then he told Kevin to stand to attention next to the gate post.
As the elderly lady drove through the gate he yelled a command to Kevin and they both gave her a salute worthy of a queen—for the sacrifices she had made for her country.
Mark thought he might just have glimpsed a salute coming back from the car.