‘No rank in death’ I’m a caretaker at Fort Logan National Cemetery. My primary job is setting headstones. We lay them in precise rows, and I dig each one by hand. We set corner stones, then …
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‘No rank in death’
I’m a caretaker at Fort Logan National Cemetery. My primary job is setting headstones. We lay them in precise rows, and I dig each one by hand. We set corner stones, then survey straight lines and lay string along them to measure them out.
This place represents the carryover of military precision into all things. It should look a certain way. It needs to be clean. If I see a stick or piece of paper, I stop to pick it up.
But look at the headstones: you will see generals, colonels, lieutenants and privates beside each other. You have no rank in death.
And the dearest thing to my heart is that black, white, Asian and Latino are all buried side by side. There’s no discrimination here.
It means a lot to me to take care of deceased veterans in a dignified way. It’s the first job I’ve had where I can’t wait to get to work. I want to make sure these headstones are set right.
Reckoning with Vietnam
I served in the Air Force, on a base in Thailand during the Vietnam War. I learned this country can get it wrong sometimes. When we get it right, it’s a wonderful thing, because we’re a powerful protector.
But we never should’ve been in Vietnam. Nobody there knocked down our towers or tried to assassinate our president. They didn’t do anything to us. We intervened in someone else’s civil war. A lot of innocent people, innocent Americans died for reasons we may never know.
‘I thought the whole world was like that’
Overall, my military experience was the best thing to happen to me.
I was born in 1950 in Shreveport, Louisiana. When I grew up, I was taught not to look in the eyes of a white man. To look away from white women. We couldn’t sit in restaurants. In many places we couldn’t use the bathroom. We had the back of the bus and separate water fountains. There were even segregated outhouses.
I thought the whole world was like that. But at 22, in the Air Force, I traveled all over the world. It broadened my understanding. I’m very grateful. How else would I have seen Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii? Everything my parents couldn’t give me, the military did.
‘With malice toward none’
I came to understand that regardless of race, there are good people and bad. I had no animosity toward things that happened in my childhood, because hatred is like a cancer.
I learned to be more respectful, and to be tolerant of ignorance. I can separate myself from it.
I’m thankful to be where I am. I could die today without regrets. “With malice toward none,” as Abraham Lincoln said.
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