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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

End of the pilgrimage

Sunday morning I overdressed again to place the wreath on my uncle's grave. I don't like to dress up at all, and I certainly don't like to wear my medals. I had not had them on in 27 years, but I wore them for him. Which means I am unlikely to wear them again. Maybe if the government ever presents us his medals. Not holding my breath.

At Araw Ng Katiningan, and at the Hellships Memorial, I saw they had the name of the givers on the wreaths. I found that a bit strange. It was his wreath, so I had his name put on it. When we got on the bus in the morning, it was loaded up in the back, a huge thing. My cousin Susan had given me a cross of palms for it, so I attached that as well as some of my "U.S." collar brass from my old uniforms. You can see these in this close-up. Don't forget to click.

So we drove to the cemetary and there met the superintendent who until today had said they couldn't be sure where Uncle Karl's remains were, but today he did say they pretty much had to be in the Manila Cemetery, if not in this exact grave. I already thought that from the analysis I had received from the non-profit group that tries to locate unknowns. He gave a big long lecture about the cemetery to our group while standing in the hot sun, so I retreated to the nice cool, shaded map room with benches. I never did figure out why everyone else didn't join me.

Eventually we invited everyone to join us at the gravesite. Here is Uncle Karl's grave, marked as an Unknown, before we placed the wreath. The inscription says, "Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God." When I saw it I cried. I knelt and hugged that cross. It was so cathartic. I ended up crying all over Carol, who was crying herself. We had waited SO LONG! 72 years as a family, which is obviously more than my whole life. Uncle Karl was always with us in our hearts, but now we had come to honor his personal sacrifice. Mission accomplished.

And here is the wreath by the grave.

Going over there, following the path he walked, finding his grave and honoring his service and sacrifice is quite possibly one of the most meaningful things I have ever done in my life, and as hard as this trip was on me, I will never regret it. My family have told me how much it meant to them just to see these pictures on the internet, even if they couldn't go personally. I am proud to be his niece and very, very grateful that Aunt Marion, Carol, Fred and I were able to represent our gigantic extended family there.

Here we are at the grave.

From left, Fred Carol, Aunt Marion, the cemetery superintendent, and me.

Finally, the grave among its neighbors. It's really a beautiful setting. I am happy whether his remains stay there or are moved back to New Jersey. Either location is fine with me.

Rest in peace, Uncle Karl, as you have all along. I love you as much as ever, but I don't miss you so badly anymore.

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