It’s not an entirely annual tradition, but over the last six Memorial Day weekends, I’ve paid visits to the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood more often than not. Surprise: I like to bike there, and today was no exception.
With more than 85,400 veterans interred across its 114 acres, the cemetery — 120 years old this year — is a solemn and poignant and historic place any day, but on this particular weekend with each grave bearing a flag it is especially so.
Since the official ceremony is tomorrow, this morning was quiet. Not more than a handful of visitors were on the premises. Nevertheless when my friend Hap and I arrived we were told immediately by the groundskeeper to walk our bikes so we wondered why, but respectfully obeyed the order and locked up near the chapel to wander around on foot.
I’m the kind of sap that won’t stand for a fallen flag and will go way out of my way to right the ones that I see downed. But graves unadorned as those two that I found near to where we’d secured our bikes? Inconceivable.
I made things right at the first grave with one flag found just stuck in the ground near nothing in particular. But I wasn’t so fortunate with the second site. So I tried the chapel door and it was locked, but a lady approaching it told me where the restrooms were.
“Thank you, but I don’t need a restroom. I need a flag for a grave I found without one.”
Her eyes went wide and she motioned for me to follow her around the side of the building where we found the same groundskeeper who’d earlier told us to dismount. She asked him to get me a flag and he gruffly trudged off to a storage shed with me bringing up the rear.
As he rummaged around inside the dark room, he mumbled something about that not being the only grave the boy scouts missed this year, so I asked him how long it took to plant all the flags.
“About two-and-a-half hours,” he said unimpressed.
But I was: “Wow! That’s fast.”
“Well, there’s 2,700 of them.”
“Oh, well then pffft,” I said. But I was still impressed.
He soon came out with a flag in his hand that was wrinkled and a bit faded but otherwise ready for the light of day.
“The kids I can tolerate,” he said, handing it to me. “It’s some of the parents I can’t stand.”
I chuckled my understanding and thanked him for his help. Then went and I placed that flag atop the undecorated grave and soon after Hap and I were on our way.