Most of the tombstones display a cross or a Star of David, showing how generations of aging Americans prepared to meet their Maker by putting their trust in Christ or in God's covenant with Abraham. Tombstones in newer sections of the cemetery can show any one of at least 48 symbols, ranging from Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim, to Soka Gakkai, Konkokyo, and the Church of World Messianity. Atheist and Wiccan engravings are hard to find but also present.
The location of the graves tells one further story. One section, Chaplains Hill, includes monuments to Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish military chaplains. Section 21 is the nurses' section. Another part is full of the remains of rear admirals. One grave a little removed from others is that of Medgar Evers of Mississippi, the World War II veteran and civil rights fighter assassinated on June 12, 1963. Ten rocks sit atop the cross-engraved tombstone.
The rocks themselves are a story of America. Under one magnolia tree sits the grave of Marvin Ollendorff, an ordinary Jewish soldier from New York. Several small "stones of remembrance" sit atop his tombstone, and some date the origin of the Jewish custom—leave an ebenezer, a stone of help—to the prophet Samuel. But the next tombstone is the cross-engraved one of Frank Spear of Kansas, and it also has several rocks on top. Americans borrow customs from each other the way neighbors borrow cups of sugar.
I saw the eighth graders leaving the cemetery. They were still paying attention, honoring the dedicated dead. Rows of white tombstones do that to you.
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