Memorial Day was set in the springtime because that’s when the flowers are in bloom.
The living honor the dead in the only way we can. We visit the graves, and we adorn them with beauty and keepsakes. Signs of life.
We kneel down, maybe say a few words, maybe pray, and we think about what we have lost and we think about why.
Cynthia Martinez did these things Monday at the grave of her youngest boy, Joseph.
Joseph Martinez died in 2005, 21 years old, serving in Iraq as that country prepared to hold its first democratic elections.
“He was determined since he was a young kid to serve,” his mom said.
He was in high school when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. He couldn’t wait to join. A tank gunner, he was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed.
“I was blessed,” his mom said, “to have talked to him two days before he died.”
She took items from the cooler she brought with her to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. She sat in the shade under an umbrella, and she told stories about her youngest boy.
He was engaged, she said. His superior officers loved him. It seemed like they were grooming him for bigger and better things.
“He was the anchor in our family,” she said, even though he was the youngest of three boys.
Across the cemetery, stories like this were told all day long.
Flowers were laid. Sometimes, elaborate bouquets and balloons and notes were put down on the graves. Sometimes, the graves remained as they were, plain but for small American flags and words engraved on a piece of rock noting that they had lived and they had died, and they had served their country.
“You want your children to grow up, be good people,” said Joseph Cool, a tattoo artist who brought his kids, ages 3, 7 and 8, to the cemetery. “You’ve got to teach them respect. That’s what it’s all about. These people served, and they protected the rest of us.”
Inside the cemetery’s chapel, speeches were made, songs were sung and heads were bowed in honor.
Someone laid a string of blueberries on a Vietnam vet’s gravestone.
Someone else poured a beer onto a grave.
A middle-aged woman sat in a nylon folding chair in the sun over the grave of a man who died in his 60s. She stared into the sky, alone.
A man with a cane walked slowly to a grave two rows over. He knelt down and held his cane tightly to support himself. He laid flowers and sat on the ground and he wept softly as he ran his fingers through the blades of grass.
He sat there by himself for a half hour, and his shoulders did not stop shaking.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.