My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

As I've mentioned in a past post or two, I've always loved cemeteries. I find them to be peaceful, contemplative and nearly always beautiful places, filled with interesting history, personal stories, and art. (And in the case of Sheridan Municipal Cemetery, wildlife too)...

a wild turkey

The cemetery is only a few minutes away by bicycle from where we're currently living, so I've been spending a lot of time there this spring. It's a quiet oasis in an otherwise noisy town; sometimes the only sounds I hear are birdsong and the occasional tinkle of wind chimes decorating someone's grave. And like most community cemeteries, it commands one of the most beautiful spots in town...

Sheridan had no cemetery until 1890, when a group of area businessmen formed the Mount Hope Cemetery Association, selling many of the original plots for $5. Many people who had been buried elsewhere were moved to the cemetery (later purchased along with some adjoining property by the town and renamed Sheridan Municipal Cemetery), which now contains over 19,000 graves.

As I've explored it, usually with camera in hand, I've found some interesting graves. Some beautiful, some historic, some especially poignant, some that piqued my curiosity. Many of them have inspired me to do some research on the internet to learn more about the people or event the grave commemorates. 

I plan to share some of the more intriguing and photogenic headstones I've found in a future post, but I thought Memorial Day was the perfect time to share these particular photos I took during the past few weeks of memorials to a few of Sheridan's war dead. I didn't take these with a Memorial Day post in mind, and not every American war is represented. Though I've found graves of those who served in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they weren't killed in action so I'm not including them here. Because although Memorial Day, officially proclaimed in 1868, has come in more recent years to be thought of as a day to commemorate any and all who have died, its original intent was to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to their country. And its with that original purpose of Memorial Day in mind that I'm sharing these photos, along with a few of my own thoughts and/or whatever information I've been able to find about them...


How especially poignant that Pvt Yardley died on the eve of his 23rd birthday, and only a month before the Nov 11 Armistice that ended the war.

This was all I could find online about Pvt James Mates, Jr (I'd guess he died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918), and I could find nothing specifically about Ambulance Company 250 or the 13th Sanitary Train with which he served. But I did find this info about Sanitary Trains in general, from the predictably dry US Army Medical Department Office of Medical History's Field Service Regulations:

The sanitary train is composed of a train headquarters, ambulance companies, field hospital companies, camp infirmaries, medical supply unit, and reserve medical supplies... 
The sanitary personnel of organizations must remain with it when advancing into action and during the whole course of an engagement. Accordingly the wounded will be treated where their wounds are received, and the sanitary personnel will pause, if the organization is moving, only so long as is necessary to give appropriate first aid...
Not surprisingly, casualties among ambulance train personnel were high.

Private Groska was an artilleryman who perished in a shipwreck just a month before the Armistice. He was one of several hundred American troops aboard the troopship HMS Otranto, bound from NY to Scotland (from which the troops would be sent to the Western Front) when it collided with another troopship, the HMS Kashmir, in a heavy storm between the northeast coast of Ireland and western isles of Scotland on Oct 6, 1918. Though nearly 600 were rescued by the HMS Mounsey, 431 others (351 American troops, 80 British crew members) were lost at sea. Many men were badly injured in the collision, and were hospitalized in Belfast. I have a feeling that was the fate of Pvt Groska, who probably died of injuries four days after the collision. The bodies of those who drowned were recovered and buried in a spot overlooking the bay where their ship went down, while many of those who died in Belfast hospitals were buried in the Belfast City Cemetery. In 1920, the remains of the American servicemen were exhumed and returned to the US for burial.


First Battalion Commander of the 501st Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Divison, Lt Col Carroll was killed in the D-Day invasion just two weeks before his 30th birthday. His father Arthur, who is buried beside his son's empty grave (Lt Col Carroll is buried in Normandy), died at age 52 exactly one week later, on June 13. I can't help but wonder if that's the day he and his family received the chaplain visit or telegram notifying them of the death of their son in combat, and can't fathom the extent and depth of grief suffered by Mrs. Carroll (who lived into old age and is buried there as well). The losses and sacrifices of war extend beyond the tragic death of the service member.

I could find nothing about PFC Novicki, but he was likely killed in a German counter-offensive that took place on July 6 in Beau Coudray, one of 10,000 casualties in 11 days of fighting on the grueling and bloody march to Paris following the Normandy invasion exactly one month earlier.

FC2 Lyle Realing was lost at sea in the torpedoing and sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the last major US Naval ship sunk by enemy action in WWII and an infamous naval disaster that killed nearly 3/4 of her crew. You can read a first-hand account from one of the 317 survivors, the ship's Chief Medical Officer, here, and see a photo of FC2 Realing here (fifth photo from the bottom).


Shot and killed near Cam Lo, Vietnam just two days shy of his 20th birthday, Marine Corporal Walter J. Washut was awarded the Silver Star posthumously for "conspicuous gallantry in action." Our local paper conducted this interview about him with his high school best friend (and fellow Marine) on Memorial Day six years ago. Posted beside Cpl. Washut's  headstone is a copy of the citation that accompanied his Silver Star...

May they and all victims of war and violence rest in peace, 
and may we all learn at last to live in peace.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

~ Siegfried Sassoon
from his poem, "Suicide in the Trenches," 1918
Written during his decorated military service in WWI 

Wishing everyone a safe, peaceful and thoughtful Memorial Day. More house progress photos in my next post!


  1. A poignant post, Laurie, and a reminder of why we honor the fallen but not the war that took their lives. I hope we can one day celebrate peace in the world.

  2. Ah thank you for clarifying Memorial Day for me, I wasn't sure what it was about exactly. Fascinating post, love that you went into the history - I had never heard of that collision between those ships before. I too love exploring cemeteries and headstones, especially the older more gothic looking ones.

    What is that creature in the first pic? Is it a turkey??

  3. Jane ~ Thanks for visiting, you're always Janey on the Spot! :-)

    Andrea ~ Thank you, Andrea. "...why we honor the fallen but not the war that took their lives" - beautifully said! And I share your hope, despite the odds.

    Barbara ~ You're welcome! I learned a lot while I was trying to find information for this post, including about the history of Memorial Day and about that ship collision. I know you and I share a love of cemeteries and envy you for the very old and scenic ones you've got there! I got to poke around in a couple of cemeteries there during our two UK visits, one in the Cotswolds and two in Scotland. Loved them!

    Nicely done! Yes, that's a wild turkey (I've now captioned the photo). We have a lot of them around here, I see them and bunnies and deer wandering around the neighborhood daily, sometimes right outside our window, which is great fun. Makes it feel like we're not even living in town!

  4. TW!

    What a wonderful post! You know how much I love cemeteries, too, so this was especially moving ;-). You've paid such a wonderful tribute to those servicemen's graves that you've photographed and researched. Great job ;-). and I need to take a stroll through a cemetery (yes, cameras in hands) and see what we can find. Every stone in every cemetery has a story. We've been doing a LOT of that lately regarding our ancestry, and it's been an enlightening experience.
    But, what I loved the most perhaps, was the view from the the! And, I know just what you mean about cemeteries being a quiet, peaceful place...some can anyway ;-). Cool turkey, too. xoxoxo-Spud

  5. Spud ~ Than you so much! Yes, I do know how much of a fellow cemetery-lover you are, and think your idea of a photo-safari together through one (or more) cemeteries would be most enjoyable! You're so right that every stone has a story, and I love it when the stone actually tells part of the story (sometimes in words, sometimes in symbols), especially in the old cemeteries. But I also like trying to research, puzzle out or invent stories for the ones that leave tantalizing clues. We'd have fun doing that together, and I'll bet your neck of the woods has some great history in its burial grounds. The personal genealogy angle would really enliven it (so to speak!), and someday I'd love to visit the old cemeteries in and around Plymouth Rock to try to piece together the missing links in my direct connection to the Mayflower pilgrims John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden. I lose the thread about three generations after they arrived and don't pick it up again for a few more. It didn't help that everyone had a dozen kids and seemed to use the same half dozen names for everybody! :-)

    I'm sure you're familiar, especially with your ancestry research, with the Find A Grave web site. It's so interesting and helpful, and just now, in pulling it up to add it here, it occurred to me to look up James Mates, Jr - and I found some info on him that I just linked to in my post! Don't know why I hadn't thought of that before - I used it to look up a couple of the other servicemen from WWI but with no luck - so thanks for the inadvertent reminder! :-)

    Isn't that view something? A big reason I love to hang out there, and it's nice that there are shade trees and benches galore, too. A few times on really hot days, I've taken a book with me with the intention of sitting on one of those shady benches and reading it, but of course the headstones and my camera exert a pull I have yet to resist!

  6. Back at ya!

    Loved your reply...thanks ;-). Yes, Find-a-Grave has been a Godsend and has opened a lot of doors for me. Once you start digging, you can't stop. I truly do hope you're able to connect the dots in your ancestry and get the Plymouth Rock connection all figured out.
    By the'll never guess what name I found in my Heath (New Hampshire & Vermont) ancestry. I can't remember off the top of my head which GGrandfather is was, but one of their wife's name was.....Mehitibel (their spelling)!! See, we really are connected ;-). My 8/9th Greatgrandfather, Bartholomew Heath came over around 1640? with John (The Missionary) Eliot on the ship Lyon. Fodder for another time, si? ;-). xoxoxo

  7. Spud ~ I didn't know you had New England DNA! :-) And a Mehitable/Mehitibel ancestor to boot, will wonders never cease! If you ever decide to start a blog, you could name it Mehitibel Nights. :-)

  8. This post was very much worth not missing!

    What a view in that second photo. Despite the fact that I know it's not a view the dead get to enjoy, it's nice to know the greiving family have such a nice view.

    I think it was a wonderful selection of graves you shared and I'm so glad you did this. I especially liked all the additional information you provided when you found it.

    It took more time to read so I don't have time for a long reply but they were all wonderful! I thought the most poinant was that Alber Novicki was one of 10,000 casualties in 11 days of fighting. I was just reading last night about the worse Tornado since 1947 that happened in 2011 and 641 people were killed. It just puts the numbers in perspective!!

  9. Jo ~ And I'm glad you didn't! :-)

    It is a beautiful view from there. I'd like to think that those now in the non-physical world get even better views, or better perspectives anyway, than this one! :-) If they lived around here, they certainly got to enjoy views like this one while they were alive.

    I'm glad you liked the graves and stories I chose for this post. I enjoyed learning what I could about these veterans, and there are plenty more graves I'm curious about!

    There will be another post next Wednesday that was photographed in the cemetery - but it's very different! (Teaser, teaser!) :-)


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
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There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
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