Tag Archives: military cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #83: United States Marine Hospital Cemetery

Entrance to the cemetery monument

United States Marine Hospital Cemetery
Near 15th Avenue and Lake Street, behind the Presidio Landmark Building, off the Mountain Lake Trail
GPS coordinates: 37° 47’ 20” N 122° 28’ 28” W
Presidio National Park
San Francisco, California
Founded: 1881
Size: unknown
Number of interments: As many as 600
Open: always

A Marine Hospital was established on San Francisco’s Presidio in 1875. The hospital provided health care to maritime laborers who had come to the US from all over the world. Shipboard medicine being what it was, many of them arrived in San Francisco in time to die at the hospital.

Records indicate that the hospital began burying indigent sailors, without family or funds to send their bodies home, on its grounds in 1881. Where they were buried before that is unknown, although the nearby City Cemetery – now the Lincoln Park Golf Course surrounding the Palace of the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum – is a possibility. In 1883, the Ladies’ Seamen’s Friends Society purchased a plot for sailors in City Cemetery. The monument they erected continues to stand in the park.

Sailors died of cancer, cirrhosis, diabetes, heart disease, pneumonia, syphilis, scurvy, and tuberculosis, among other things. Initially, they were buried in their own clothes in redwood coffins provided by the hospital. Later, when the hospital built its own crematory, they were cremated and buried in bronze urns.

The Marine Cemetery monument

The site was used only until 1912. San Francisco had passed a law in 1902 forbidding burials within city limits. Technically, this did not apply to the hospital, since it stood on Presidio grounds, overseen by the US Army – who continue, to this day, to bury soldiers in the San Francisco National Cemetery, also inside the Presidio.

By the 1930s, the Marine Cemetery lay in ruins. It had only ever had temporary whitewashed wooden markers stuck into its sandy soil. The cemetery was forgotten and used as a dump. In 1969, the Veterans Administration, which had taken over the hospital, covered the old graveyard with a parking lot. Only when the US Army prepared to abandon the Presidio in 1989 did the Corps of Engineers rediscover the cemetery. By then, it was buried under 10 feet of debris.

The map to Marine Cemetery Vista stands beyond a parking lot off Wedemeyer Street.

The Presidio Archaeology Lab studied old records and learned that as many as 600 sailors from 30 states and 43 countries remained buried at the site. Also buried there are a hospital attendant, a nurse, a gardener, and the stillborn son of one of the hospital’s doctors.

The National Park Service took over control of the Presidio in 1996. Not until 2011 was a stone plaque placed to honor those buried at the Marine Hospital Cemetery. It’s not easy to find, even when you’re committed to looking for it. I wandered at length, until I stumbled upon the strange unmarked wooden fence standing in the middle of a dune covered with off-limit native plants. By following the boardwalk up onto the platform, I discovered the black granite stone set down onto the face of the dune. It’s only visible through a window in the boardwalk.

The former Veterans Administration Hospital, now an apartment building

According to Where Jack is at Rest: The Marine Hospital Cemetery at the Presidio of San Francisco, published by the Presidio Archaeology Center, the plan was to leave the bodies in place “without further disturbance of their graves.” However, if I were to nominate a place in San Francisco that deserves to be haunted, it’s this long-forgotten corner of the Presidio where the dead did not get due respect.

The old Marine Hospital is now an apartment building.

Useful links:
The Presidio’s site for the cemetery

Text of Where Jack is at Rest

Poster describing the causes of death at the Marine Hospital Cemetery

The Park Service’s Presidio site

CemeteryRegistry.us listing

Cemetery of the Week #72: Avondale Cemetery

The John Street entrance to Avondale Cemetery

Avondale Cemetery
4 Avondale Avenue, Stratford, Perth County, Ontario N5A 6M4 Canada
Telephone: 519-271-0250 ext. 246
Founded: 1871
Size: 44 acres
Number of interments: 30,000
Open: Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In 1824, the government of Upper Canada received a grant of a million acres of land to settle. The area around what would become the village of Stratford began to be settled in 1828 after the Huron Road was surveyed.

A shrouded granite urn

Among the first businesses in the area was the Shakespeare Hotel, owned by William Sargint (who would one day be buried in the Avondale Cemetery). He received a portrait of Shakespeare from the director of the Canada Company, which helped to fund the settlements. The same director named the settlement Stratford and renamed the creek – which had been called Little Thames – after the Avon River. Stratford grew to become a village by 1854. By 1859, it was large enough to be a town.

Stratford benefited from the Grand Trunk Railway and the Buffalo and Lake Huron Line, which made it a railway hub. The town also manufactured furniture, an industry that was so successful that it cushioned Stratford from the hard times that struck the rest of Canada in the 1890s.

Military headstone with maple leaf decoration

Lovely Avondale Cemetery was created by the City of Stratford in 1871. (It continues to be overseen by the city’s Community Services Department.) In 1883, the London Diocese purchased 17 acres adjacent to the public cemetery for the burial of Catholics. Many of the local churchyards moved their residents here as land in town increased in value. This Catholic area, at the crest of the cemetery, still bears the names of saints.

Military grave with a veterans poppy

Also near the top of the cemetery lies the military section. Rather than symbols of religious affiliation, as you would see in America, the gravestones are adorned with maple leaves. Many of them also had bright images of red poppies affixed to their faces. Veterans’ poppies, which used to be commonly sold in November, refer back to the red poppies that nodded over the burial grounds of the First World War. The image was popularized by the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. Do yourself a favor and go read it here.

The 1918 Influenza Epidemic hit the area hard; 88 victims were buried in the graveyard in the course of a single month that autumn.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival was organized in 1953. Its first play, performed in a tent, featured Alec Guinness as Richard III. The festival has expanded to include four permanent theaters now. Each season, its plays span from Shakespeare to Gilbert & Sullivan to musicals like 42nd Street and more modern work like MacHomer, which reimagines Shakespeare’s play with characters from The Simpsons.

The “famous” people buried in Avondale are either hockey players or connected in some way to the Shakespeare Festival, including the Festival’s longest-running artistic director, Richard Monette.

A field of granite monuments

Avondale is the first Canadian cemetery I’ve had the pleasure to visit, but I found it remarkable for the number of ornately carved granite monuments. My suspicion is that some marble markers have been replaced. The soft stone wouldn’t fare well with the fierce Canadian winters.

In Memory of My Dear Ekie

I didn’t find any historical information in the cemetery as I wandered, but there is a good walking tour online, should you find yourself in Stratford.

Useful links:
The history of Avondale Cemetery

Map and GPS coordinates to Avondale Cemetery

Lovely black-and-white photos of the Angels of Avondale

My visit of Avondale Cemetery.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Launch

Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. I was watching TV that morning before I went to my job as the Undergraduate English Secretary at the University of Michigan.

Much of the country was watching TV on January 28, 1986. Among the crew members was Christa McAuliffe, who’d won the honor to be the first Teacher in Space. She represented the opportunity for normal people to go into space. Her death marked the end of that dream for most people.

On June 12, 1986, Congress resolved that “the Secretary of the Army should construct and place in Arlington National Cemetery a memorial marker honoring the seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.” Artist Robert Harding designed the bronze plaque on the front of the monument. John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem “High Flight” is inscribed on the memorial’s back.

Some of the Challenger crewmembers’ remains could be identified and were buried in private graves. Everything that could not be identified using 1980s technology was cremated and is buried in the base of this monument.

Vice President George Bush dedicated the monument on March 21, 1987. Family members of the seven Challenger astronauts, along with a small crowd of 400 other people, attended.

Faces and names engraved on the monument are:

Commander Michael J. Smith, Pilot (buried in Arlington in Section 7-A)
Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee (buried in Section 46 to the left of the Challenger Monument)
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist (and teacher)
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…”

Cemetery of the Week #1: Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

The chapel inside the USS Arizona Memorial

Once the ferry docked, everyone shuffled down the gangplank onto the blindingly white memorial. Despite the bustle, the monument seemed very peaceful. People kept quiet, moved slowly, were relatively polite to each other — but the men didn’t take off their baseball caps. I didn’t feel they were being consciously disrespectful. They just didn’t know any better.

I kept thinking of my visit to Hiroshima, the bookend of America’s involvement in World War II in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor’s shipyard had been an obvious military target. Victims here had been warriors. Even if war remained undeclared in 1941, the men at Pearl Harbor were trained and ready to fight. They expected to be called upon to give their lives for their country, if not as soon as they did. These sailors were betrayed by their government and their commanders — and, to be fair, by the enemy — but their deaths succinctly served the purpose the American government had in mind: to goad an uncommitted public into war.

Hymns I recognized from my childhood played over the speakers while people filed through the memorial. The structure is basically an enclosed bridge that straddles the sunken battleship. The Arizona rests on the harbor bottom, forty feet down. Its brittle, rusty smokestack protrudes from the water.

As I watched, a rainbow slick of oil drifted from a slowly leaking tank. An older gentleman in military uniform volunteered that the oil had been seeping since the ship went down. “Legend claims,” he said, “that the oil will flow until the last survivor dies.”

The veteran guide continued to speak, telling us how the memorial received some of its funding. When Elvis Presley came to Oahu in 1961 to film Blue Hawaii, he asked to be taken to Pearl Harbor. At the time, only a plaque marked the spot. Presley performed a benefit in Honolulu and donated the proceeds to the memorial fund.

I wondered how native Hawaiians feel about the monument in the bay where their ancient kings had hunted sharks. A million and a half people visit the Arizona Memorial each year, tossing coins and flowers into the water. It struck me as odd that the Park Service worried about the effect of lei strings on wildlife, but not sixty years of seeping oil.

I leaned through one of the rectangular openings in the memorial bridge, gazing down into the water. I’m not sure what I wanted to see to make the experience real. The men below had long been dissolved and carried away by the ocean. No fish could brave the contaminated water. Below me sat rusting steel bought by the American public, paid for with American blood. What did it mean?

An older woman leaned out from the next opening. I watched her methodically strip pink dendrobium orchids from a lei. The flowers dropped the short distance from her fingers to bob on the wavelets. Tears washed her cheeks. I felt I was intruding and turned away.

Dazed, I considered how I don’t have any personal connection to WWII. My parents were infants at the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing. My grandfathers were too old to enlist. Later in the war, my mother’s father moved the family to Virginia to build warships to replace those lost in Hawaii. My mom was too young to recall much of that. My grandparents, who would have remembered, are gone now.

I wandered into the memorial’s chapel in the room farthest from the hubbub of the dock. An angular framework suggested a modernistic stained glass window, except that the panels were open to the sky and water outside. Bright sunlight only emphasized the gloom in the chapel, highlighting a fraction of the 1177 names on the wall.

Tourists balked at going more than halfway into the shrine. They clustered toward the back of the room, clogging the entrance. I wasn’t sure if that was out of respect or from the same atavistic impulse that keeps people out of the front pew in church. I sidled through the crowd to get a picture without baseball caps in it.

On my way back to the ferry, the veteran guide said that scuba had been so new in 1941 that the rescue effort was abandoned quickly, even though they knew people survived inside the sunken ships. Among the tourists he’d spoken to had been a Navy diver. While the man dived that December morning, he heard someone banging for the longest time. They couldn’t rescue him. The banging came less and less frequently until it eventually stopped.

Even though I hadn’t reached the connection I desired, time had come to return to the tour bus. I kept thinking of the Japanese schoolchildren shaking my husband Mason’s hand in the Peace Museum. I wondered if Japanese visitors found such courtesy here.

Cemetery of the Week #44: the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Cemetery of the Week #44: The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
No. 1 Arizona Memorial Place
Honolulu, Hawaii 96818
Telephone: (808) 422-3300
Established: 1962
Size: 10 acres
Number of interments: 1102 of the 1177 men who died on the Arizona. Some were cremated at their posts. Others were killed by the concussion and their bodies left in place. Since the 1980s, approximately 30 urns of ashes have been placed in the gun turret by Park Service divers. Other men, who served on the Arizona prior to December 7, 1941, have had their ashes spread over the waters.
Open: The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. Ferries to the USS Arizona Memorial begin at 8 a.m. and run until 3.
Admission: Tours are free, but timed tickets are given away on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets may all be given away by noon, so come early and be prepared to wait.

There had been talk of turning the shallow harbor on Oahu to American military usage during the Spanish-American War, before the U.S. even annexed Hawaii in 1898. Construction of the Naval base began in 1908. Between Hawaii and Japan stood 4000 miles of open ocean, a distance too narrow for American hawks.

Out through the back of the Visitor Center, a patio surrounded by lush tropical greenery looked out over the placid harbor. The shallow water shone cerulean beneath fleecy white clouds. Park Service plaques held black-and-white photos from 1941, showing where the ships had been moored when the attack began. Gray steel warships literally encircled the island in the center of the harbor.

I know those were different days, but looking back from seven decades on, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have seen this accumulation of war machinery and believed America’s intentions were peaceful. Hostilities might not have been formally declared, but they were clearly anticipated. In reality, the U.S. had long looked forward to quashing Japanese expansionism. Washington simply wanted justification. The Rape of Nanking hadn’t been enough; some small Pacific nation needed to be sacrificed, too.

Men on both sides of the ocean counseled against starting anything. Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto had attended university in the U.S. and spoke fluent English. He understood that Americans might be balked by a surprise defeat, but once battle was joined, the larger country would win. He spoke against provoking the U.S. until his countrymen threatened his life. Cornered, Yamamoto lobbied for a decisive first strike to destroy the fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. With any luck, the U.S. would be completely disarmed until after Japan conquered Asia. By then, it would be too late.

James O. Richardson, the admiral in command of America’s Pacific Fleet, called it suicidal to mass the entire fleet in one place. That warning contradicted what President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to hear, so he replaced the man. Pearl Harbor had seemed safe because its waters were considered too shallow for torpedoes to travel. A submarine net easily blocked the harbor’s narrow mouth. Radar was only just coming into use, but military consensus was that the Japanese wouldn’t dare anything worse than sabotage. To prevent that, Lt. General Walter Short ordered American warplanes parked wing to wing and tail to nose to make them easier to guard. That made them impossible to fly on December 7th, 1941.

If not for a cascade of American ineptitude, the attack on Pearl Harbor might have been no surprise at all. Roosevelt received reports that the Japanese fleet had gone to sea, but his advisers predicted they were headed to the Dutch Indies. The Pacific fleet did not go in search of them.

At 4 a.m. on the morning of the attack, the USS Ward sank a Japanese submarine outside Pearl Harbor. However, its report of the incident was not coded urgent and didn’t get passed on to the men sleeping on ships inside the harbor.

Radar trainees had been supposed to shut down their equipment at 7 a.m., but because they had not yet gone off-duty, they saw a huge mass approaching Oahu. They reported to a lieutenant on the second day of his command. He expected American B-17s from San Francisco. Even though this swarm came from the south rather than east from San Francisco, he advised the radar men not to worry about it.

When a modified torpedo hit the West Virginia, the U.S. fleet was completely undefended. Three minutes later, a bomb cut through the Arizona and ignited its forward magazine. It sank in nine minutes, all hands aboard. America had its catalyst to enter World War II.

Park Rangers accompany the low white ferries for the trip across the water to the memorial. The sound system played “Taps” and informs visitors that the USS Arizona “is considered a cemetery, so keep your voices down.” Other instructions include, “Don’t throw coins from the memorial.” The Park Service still collects coins five times a year, but the metal plummeting through the water damages the old ship. Flowers are OK to cast onto the water, but lei strings should be cut so they don’t endanger wildlife.

The memorial is the most popular tourist destination in Hawaii, with up to 4000 visitors per day. Since 9/11, bags, backpacks, and purses are not allowed in the memorial. They must be left on the tour bus or locked in your trunk.

Useful links:

Events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attack

The National Park Service site

Pearl Harbor Memorial official site

Names of the dead

A Marine visits Pearl Harbor

Cemetery of the Week #26: Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park

My visit to the Arizona and thoughts about Hiroshima