A heartfelt journey through Rhode Island Veteran’s Cemetery, where personal memories entwine with a solemn tribute to fallen heroes.
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RI’s Veteran’s Cemetery

With my home in Rhode Island, I can’t easily drive all the way to San Antonio where my Dad was laid to rest with a three volleys of gunfire and the distant sound of a bugle playing taps when I want to remember him.

My mother has the neatly folded flag that once draped his coffin on the mantle next to his medals, but I don’t have that here in Rhode Island to remember the hero who taught me to be a man. So on melancholy days, on days of significance to his memory, and on days like Memorial Day when the whole world recognizes heroes, I go to the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter to remember my personal hero by honoring his fallen brothers.

My wife is a born-and-bred Rhode Islander, and over the years several members of her extended family have been buried here. She points out the plots with long familiarity as we stroll from monument to monument, occasionally dipping into the woods along the hiking trail then emerging into the sun-soaked fields to stop at another marker for yet another of her relatives who had served the nation.

Past the extensive Korean War Veterans’ Memorial, down the trails to a field half-hidden in the back of the 265-acre cemetery, we find the marker she could find with her eyes closed. “Here’s Uncle Herb and Aunt Barbara’s spot,” she would say, and we’d stop for a moment. She’ll dust off the marker and remember playing on Herb’s farm and how Herb seemed like a giant to her as a child. I never knew Herb, but he was a South County legend, a man who earned the respect of those around him. As his wife, Aunt Barbara shares the plot with him as is common for the veterans laid to rest in the cemetery.

Linda’s a spiritual person, with a steadfast belief that an eternal reward awaits those who deserve it. I’ve never asked what she prays when we stop at Herb’s gravesite, but I always presume she’s passing along family gossip and sharing a memory of digging potatoes and chasing chickens.

The first of the 150 National Cemeteries were established during the Civil War. The horrible battles of Bull Run and Shiloh had already claimed thousands, and hundreds of thousands more were destined to join them. Presently more than 3 million Americans have been honored by burial as national heroes. Many rest beneath the vertical headstones that images of Arlington National Cemetery made familiar; the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio where my Dad is buried has the same vertical headstones, marked on the front with the name of the veteran, on the back with the name of his spouse.

Here in Exeter, the markers are all horizontal, flush with the ground, making maintenance much easier. But unlike Fort Sam Houston, the memorials along the roadways honor groups: Vietnam veterans, women in the military, veterans who served on submarines, Coast Guard veterans, veterans who were Masons – they help people remember not only the veterans buried in Exeter, but wherever in the world they’ve been put to rest.

We used to visit Uncle Charlie’s grave site with Linda’s aged Aunt Jessie. Jessie was a veteran of WWII herself, reaching the rank of Chief Petty Officer before marrying Charlie and leaving the service to raise her own family. As a veteran, she has earned the right to be buried in her own plot next to Charlie. When Jessie was with us, clearing the headstone of grass and straightening one of the little flags placed by Boy Scouts we knew that in very few years we would be doing the same for her marker.

Since then, Linda’s parents and the rest of her family’s elder generation have passed on. Almost all were either in the armed forces or married to a veteran. The veteran’s cemetery is the place she goes to remember them.

Memorial day is a somber remembrance of the 1.4 million servicemen and women who have fallen in battle during and since the Civil War, but we try to remember every person who put themselves at risk for the rest of us.

And, if you’re like me, where your personal hero is buried far away, I invite you to join me in honoring his brothers and sisters in arms in whichever of the 150 Veteran’s Cemeteries happen to be near you.

Paul not only writes many of the articles in the pages of this magazine, he is also the publisher and editor of all of the magazines in the Amygis Publishing’s family of travel magazines. He loves exploring, traveling the back roads, experiencing the world, and finding what is unique and memorable about the places he visits.

And he loves writing – poetry, short stories, essays, non-fiction, news, and. of course, travel writing.
For over 20 years, he has shared his explorations with readers in a wide variety of outlets, from groundbreaking forays into the first stirrings of the dot-com boom to travel guides, local newspapers, and television, including Runner’s World, Travel Lady, Providence Journal, and Northstar Travel Media. He currently publishes and writes for Amygis Publishing’s magazines Jaunting, Northeast Traveler, and Rhode Island Roads.