What is an appropriate answer to the question, “when is a cemetery more than a cemetery?” The answer would be “when a community creates an advisory council to beautify that cemetery.” And that is what residents of Cherokee and surrounding counties have done by creating the Georgia National Cemetery Advisory Council. This council is composed of 35 members, including friend Tom Wilder, whose purpose is to beautify the cemetery located on one of the most beautiful sites in Cherokee County. The land where this cemetery is located is a site donated to the Veterans Administration by the late Scott Hudgens, a man who went into Europe on D-day in June 1944, survived, and returned home and became a very successful businessman.
The council’s purpose is to honor the 22,500 military veterans currently buried in this National Cemetery while receiving about 200 new burials a month from throughout Georgia and surrounding states. The cemetery is located just a few miles west of Canton on Ga. Highway 20. In recent years, the council raised $385,000 to build the Carillon Bell Tower that greets all visitors as they enter the cemetery. And when visitors visit the cemetery at Christmas time, they see the wreaths placed at the headstone of each veteran. While the bell tower is now a permanent fixture the wreaths are replaced each year and this is why the council is raising, via donations, $200,000 to buy the wreaths for the upcoming Christmas season. Donations can be mailed to GNC Advisory Council, P.O. Box 5476, Canton, GA 30114 or on line at: http://www.ganationalcemetery.org
As a veteran of the Korean War, I plan to be buried in this cemetery, along with my wife Joan, when our time to transfer from mortality to immortality comes. And when that time comes, I will be joining several close friends who have gone ahead to welcome us when our turn comes. In 2008 a close friend, Sterling Leif Eide, was buried in the Georgia National Cemetery following his funeral service where his wife Jean said “this is a day of mourning and a day of celebration, a celebration of the life of a man who served his God, his country, his family, and his fellow man for 81 years 11 months and eight days…”
I wrote a column describing Sterling’s burial at the cemetery. The following words are from that column. “But as the funeral service ended with the grave dedication by Bishop Larry Isaksen in the cemetery’s beautiful new Committal Chapel, the tears turned to smiles as his family and many friends looked out across the beautiful foothills of Georgia’s northern mountains and beheld the beauty of a wondrous earth created by its Creator for mankind’s joy and happiness, smiles that were now remembering the life of this giant of a man who truly loved life and was willing to give his life to preserve our freedoms in a time of real need.
“Sterling’s military service was in that war to end all wars, World War II, but as we see today, that war did not end all wars but was just another in a series of wars that began with that War-in-Heaven where individual agency was the issue – and is still the issue. Wars destroy lives, homes, and nations – with no end of these wars in sight. And appeasement is not an option, as some suggest.
“The funeral caravan was unusually long but thanks to Sheriff Roger Garrison’s proficient Sheriff’s department it was an uninterrupted ride from the chapel to the cemetery. As we entered the National cemetery the patrol car slid off into the shadows as we made our way up the hill to the burial site where, as we turned left to enter the Committal Chapel, there stood, at rigid attention, a soldier holding his bugle. Goose bumps caused me to shiver – I knew what was coming. And Joan cried. Her father is buried in the Fort Douglas National Military Cemetery in Utah, a 35-year veteran.
“Sterling’s casket was placed on the receiving table. The Flag of the United States of America covered it. Two sailors stepped forward, stood at rigid attention at either end of the casket, signaled silently and the soldier lifted his bugle and blew taps. It was touching beyond words. The Flag was lifted, folded with practiced precision, then handed to Sterling’s wife Jean, with these words (paraphrased) “your nation and the president of the United States honors you and your husband for his service to his country in time of grave danger.”
Soul touching words that brought even more tears.