We knew the coronavirus pandemic would make holiday travel difficult and impact the seasonal tradition of loved ones visiting the graves of Veterans.
So, when VA’s Veterans Experience Office and National Cemetery Administration proposed the idea of having RallyPoint members pay tribute to make the trip to nearby gravesites of fellow Veterans instead, we thought this could help make a true difference in a few dozen Veteran family members’ lives.
Then it caught on like wildfire. From Nashville to the Netherlands and points in between, the RallyPoint community’s response to this call to action has been overwhelming – and inspiring.
A Veteran Honor Guard member wrote in with a post and photo of him playing a bugle in tribute to the Veterans buried at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. He pledged to visit there with a penny and a picture of the gravestone to honor your Veteran if you were unable to make the trip.
One RallyPoint member offered to go to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery and set a penny on the grave and post it for other members who have loved ones there.
Another Veteran, on the other hand, asked if a member could visit his father and mother buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery and take a picture. About eight days later, two different community members – a retired Air Force Technical Sergeant and a Vietnam Veteran whose daughter belongs to RallyPoint – did just that.
“Rest assured your folks were visited this year,” the daughter wrote in a message that included images of his parents’ gravesites, one adorned with a wreath.
Another former community member offered to visit Veterans’ loved ones laid to rest at the VA Nashville National Cemetery. She also described keeping in touch with the cemetery worker caring for the burial grounds of her relative who died in World War II. She said the cemetery worker assured her that her descendants will “continue to clean, decorate, and otherwise care for his grave after she’s gone.”
Some of you have been visiting Veterans’ gravesites for decades.
A Vietnam Veteran community member described adopting the grave of a soldier who was in his battalion. The young man was killed in action in 1968, a few days after he was wounded.
“I read about it and found out he was in a Catholic Cemetery not far from me,” he wrote. “One day I drove over and found his grave and saw that he was with his mother and dad. From then on I have left a wreath for Christmas and a flag on Memorial Day.”
All the way from the Netherlands, a community caregiver member wrote to say she will visit Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium, where nearly 8,000 U.S. service members killed in World War II are buried. “If someone wishes me to visit one of your loved ones,” she said, “I will do so with all my love.”
How to get involved
You can take part in this effort all year-round. The original post outlining this idea, which you can find at http://rly.pt/3nznKKi, describes the process. I’ll summarize it here:
- If you’re looking for someone to visit, click that link and type LOOKING in the search bar at top. Share a few details about your Veteran so the volunteer can honor their service.
- If you are offering to visit, type VISITING and the cemetery’s name. Consider taking a picture and sending it to the Veteran family member or loved one who requested the visit.
- If you are not sure where your Veteran is buried or interred, use the National Cemetery Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator at http://rly.pt/3bvEXls. A virtual platform for remembrance is also available at http://rly.pt/3nD3CGW.
And, thank you for sharing your stories of service to other Veterans and their loved ones – they are what make our community so special.
The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of the VA.
Ryan Callahan is the son of a USMC Veteran and vice president of marketing at RallyPoint.