Soon after my mother learned she was terminally ill in 2002, she informed me that she wanted to have a military funeral.

My mother was a member of the U.S. Navy WAVES in World War II. WAVES is an acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, started by the Navy in July 1942 to allow women to serve in roles stateside and free men to go overseas and fight.

When and how my mother decided to serve and where she enlisted, I have no idea. She would have only been 20 at the time.

I just know that for much of the war she left behind the small rural town in Alabama where she was born to travel to Washington, D.C., and New York City to serve as a radiology technician caring for the returning wounded in hospitals including Walter Reed.

The reason I know so little about her time in the military is that she rarely, if ever, spoke of it. That is why I was shocked when she informed me what she wanted for her funeral.

My father was a sergeant in the Army during World War II and served in France. I know he was a part of the troops that landed in the days following D-Day. I know he was there until the war ended, but like my mother he almost never spoke of those times.

When he died there was no mention of a military funeral, so I was doubly surprised when my mother brought it up.

She was 80 when she died, and I knew that she had joined a women’s veterans group in Washington in the months before she became ill. Perhaps her time in the military began to take on a new importance for her in her final days.

She and my father both died before the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton opened. I am sad she did not live to see it come to our town, because she would have been proud of that honor for our community.

The Georgia National Cemetery off Highway 20 opened for burials on April 24, 2006. Already there are more than 20,000 who served us in the military at final rest there.

The 775-acre national cemetery is expected to serve veterans for the next 50 years.

The property for the cemetery was donated by Scott Hudgens, a World War II veteran, land developer and philanthropist from Atlanta. The site lies between Cartersville and Canton, near the Etowah River, and offers beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Allatoona.

At the time of my mother’s death, I thought and thought about how to honor her wishes in a simple and dignified fashion, because those two words are good descriptions of my mother.

I decided the best would be to have her dressed in a navy-blue suit and white blouse, one of her favorite outfits. We chose red roses, her favorite flower, rather than a flag.

My mother died on Christmas Day. We planned her funeral for Dec. 27.

The good people at Huey’s Funeral Home, which is now Darby’s, helped me to find a group of veterans from Pickens County to give a 21-gun salute and play Taps. She is buried in Riverview Cemetery behind the Cherokee Arts Center in Canton.

As those shots rang out that morning in the crisp December air, I knew my mother would be proud that we were remembering a part of her life that gave her such quiet pride.

This Veterans Day, as we honor all those who have served our country, I am proud to live in a community where we salute our veterans every day, where patriotic pride has never gone out of style and where many veterans choose to make their homes.

We also have a special chance this week to honor those who served our country, as the cremated remains of seven World War II veterans who had no one to claim them are laid to final rest at our Georgia National Cemetery.

A service by the volunteers with the local Missing in America Project is planned at 12 p.m. at the Roswell Funeral Home on Nov. 12.

As the Cherokee Tribune is reporting, a procession from the funeral home to Georgia National Cemetery will follow, and then the cremains of all seven veterans will be placed in one of the three columbariums at the cemetery.

While at the cemetery, an additional service will be held, where all honors and recognition the veterans earned will be given.

Those wishing to pay their respects to these veterans can do so along the route, or at either of the services. Those in charge are hopeful a large crowd will be on hand to pay tribute to these seven veterans. What a wonderful remembrance at this time of year for honoring all veterans.

I am glad I was able to follow my mother’s wishes, and that she had loving family around her as she was laid to rest.

I am thankful that we in Cherokee County have the honor of a National Cemetery where we can always keep the flame burning for those who served our country.

Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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