The final resting place of those who sacrificed so much for their country is being neglected and forgotten. Retired naval captain Ralph Parrot has made it his mission to restore the respect and dignity to the oldest military cemetery on the west coast — but he can’t do it alone.
After the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA closed in 1996, responsibility for maintaining the Mare Island Cemetery slipped through the bureaucratic cracks – allegedly becoming the responsibility of the City of Vallejo.
Without a plan for ongoing maintenance from the U.S. Navy or dedicated funding from the city, the cemetery fell into a state of disrepair. Currently, only a small group of volunteers devote time to doing even the most basic upkeep.
Mare Island Cemetery is no ordinary interment park. It’s the oldest military cemetery on the west coast. It’s on the National Register of Historic places. Victims of the U.S.S. Boston tragedy are buried there, as is Francis Scott Key’s daughter and numerous sailors.
But over twenty years of neglect have left the facility in a deplorable condition. Critics point to leaning, fallen headstones. Meanwhile, other headstones and markers are being propped up with stray pieces of wood. All believe our service members deserve better.
If you are a mother then you are part of a very special group of people. Only mother’s carry their children inside their body for nine months before giving birth. It’s a special wonder to be part of that group. Being a mother is a job I took very seriously. To teach and shape the minds of little humans is a huge responsibility.
There’s another group of mothers that no mother wants to be a part of. The group I refer to is mothers who have lost a child. When I was raising my children I knew women who had lost their infants, toddlers, or teenagers. Our hearts would break to hear about the death of a child we knew. Deep down we would not admit it but we feared the thought of being a member of that group. Some mothers would avoid another mother after her loss as if her grief would rub off.
I saw this happen to my own mother when my oldest brother died at age 24. I was only 19 and not yet a mother myself. I didn’t understand her grief until I became a mom myself and discovered that love. I do remember others avoiding her. I guess they just weren’t sure what to say or do. I do remember people telling her things that I’m sure they thought were helpful but they couldn’t possibly understand her pain. These mothers don’t need you to understand their pain but they need to know you remember their child. My mother said that everyone not wanting to talk about my brother hurt more than the people who just avoided her as if her loss would “rub off on them”.
I have been amazed by the women I have known that have suffered the loss of a child. These women are fierce and their love is forever. Their child is no longer on this earth but their love is far beyond what we can see or understand in this life.
I met one of these amazing fierce loving moms recently – Maria’s mom.
Maria’s mom will celebrate every holiday, every family triumph , every family birthday with Maria.
When I moved into my apartment a few years ago I picked my childhood neighborhood. Maybe I was being nostalgic or maybe I just felt a comfort come over me when I first saw the duplex apartment. The House was old , like all the others, it had the original woodwork, leaded windows, and hardwood floors. As weeks went by I worked up the nerve to knock on a neighbors door. Now this neighbor was a lifelong friend of my moms but my mom died over 15 years ago and I wasn’t sure if she still lived in the home or if she was still alive. I knock nervously on her door it flew open and a smiling woman hugged me and said, “Missy!”. Not only did she recognize me but was happy to see me.
That started a friendship that would grow over the next 3 years. She ask me to come back after that first reunion and it became a daily ritual. At first we would just catch up on each other’s lives. Then it became stories about my family that I had never heard. She was an amazing story teller. She was also a great listener and I needed one. She always had a smile on her face and never complained. She never judged anything I said or did. I would walk her dog with mine and sometimes we would share a quick meal together at her house. I would ask her if she needed anything and sometimes she did. Somewhere in the very back of my head I knew that this would not last forever but I didn’t care. Just having her friendship and love was all that mattered. I knew how old she was but she didn’t seem old to me. She was always wanting to learn something new and her mind was so open that age was not present in our friendship.
my friend died a few weeks ago and the pain in my heart is the lost friendship. Her children held a celebration of her life and it was just as special and unique as she was. I could have not taken the time to reunite and create this friendship but the pain I’m feeling now is worth the love I received from her. She touched my life and I have grown.