Captain Packrat (captpackrat) wrote,
Captain Packrat

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Tired, so very tired....

My aunt, uncle and two cousins arrived from Indiana yesterday morning, so I had to hit the road at 8 am to make it in time to pick them up from Lindberg Field. My mother and one of my sisters joined us and we went over to the mortuary for the viewing. Personally I find the whole ritual kinda creepy.

My visitors went to sleep fairly early, but I've had a lot on my mind lately, particularly worries about the house. I couldn't get to sleep until nearly 2 am.

My alarm went off at 6:30, and we were on the road by 7:45. My grandmother's funeral was at 9:15 am at Riverside National Cemetery, about 60 miles away. I drove conservatively, and we managed to arrive at the cemetery at the same time as the hearse from the mortuary. (When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother held us up and we didn't get onto the road until about 50 minutes before the funeral was scheduled. I broke all kinds of laws of traffic and physics and managed to catch up to the hearse at the cemetery.)

Of all the National Cemeteries in California, there are only two that are still accepting burials, Riverside and San Joaquin Valley. All the others are totally full (except Fort Rosecrans, which has room only for cremations). ANY honorably-discharged veteran (and their spouse) of the United States Armed Forces (including Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Reserves, National Guard, ROTC, commissioned NOAA and PHS officers) is elegible for burial in a National Cemetery. With only two such Cemeteries in the entire state, they do a LOT of burials. Everything is down to a science: The mourners line up behind the hearse at a staging area, and are then lead by Cemetery staff to a committal shelter where a brief ceremony is held. The casket is then taken away for burial. Visitors are not (normally) allowed to observe this, as they do dozens of interments in one day, and thus have dozens of open graves and lots of heavy machinery in the area, making it much too dangerous for people to be hanging around. When my grandfather was buried, fairly late in the day, we were told to return in a couple hours and we would be allowed into the area.

My grandfather, being a 24-year Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer, was given full military honors and had a Marine Corps Color Guard. They helped remove his casket from the hearse, carried it into the committal shelter, folded up the flag that draped his coffin and presented it to my grandmother, fired a salute, and played Taps. My grandmother, being a civilian, was not entitled to anything other than use of the facility.

I was asked to be one of the pallbearers for my grandmother's casket. Like I said before, they have things down to a science, so there was only a minimum of heavy lifting, just helping to transfer the casket from the hearse to a wheeled cart, then holding the handle and escorting it to the committal shelter. The pastor from my grandparent's church said a few things, then we escorted the casket back to the hearse and helped transfer it back inside.

We were then allowed the rare opportunity to watch the interment, which was actually mostly rather unimpressive. The Cemetery staff had already cleared away the sod and dirt and removed the concrete lid from my grandfather's vault, and had covered it with boards to keep people from falling in. The staff transferred the casket from the hearse to a special cart. The casket was placed on two large straps which supported it. They then used a small tractor to move it over to the grave, placed a couple rails over the hole, then backed the cart over the opening. Once they had it in position, they released a mechanism that slowly lowered the casket into the ground. They unhooked and wound the straps back up, then drove the cart away. They brought in a back hoe and lowered the concrete lid back onto the vault. Then a small dump truck full of dirt showed up and they dumped it into the hole. And finally another cart showed up and another staff member used a machine to tamp the dirt down firmly and replaced the headstone. Not really the way they do things on TV or the movies.

My relatives have a 6:00 am flight out from Lindberg Field, and what with airport security being they way it is now, they recommend arriving at least 2 hours ahead of time. Add to that the drive time from here to San Diego, and we'll need to be leaving here at about 3 am!

I haven't bothered to try to get any sleep yet, I'll wait until I get back, though by then the sun will probably be coming up.

Sorry if I've rambled or I'm a bit incoherent. I'm rather tired.
Tags: family

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