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“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor.” Chesterton, Gilbert K.
Our younger brother, former Marine Cpl. Richard G. Merna, a Korean War veteran, died on July 4th last year (2006). Yesterday (August 7, 2007) would have been his 73rd birthday, so my wife and I, despite the over 100 degree heat, decided to visit him at the Quantico National Cemetery to personally wish him a “Happy Birthday.”
We stopped at a store for a plant, flag and “Happy Birthday Balloon.” When we got there the cemetery, in contrast to this past July 4th when we also visited, was pretty well austere. We noted several grounds people laboring in the very hot sun with weed eaters and others cutting the grass. One funeral for an Army veteran) was underway. (For anyone who may not be aware, Quantico National Cemetery located in Triangle, VA only a few miles from the Quantico Marine Base and National Museum of the Marine Corps, is a Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery for ALL veterans, not just Marines).
The grounds maintenance folks apparently had cleared the usually many decorated graves of older plants, flags and other ornaments left by loved ones. We planted our birthday presents, quietly said some brief prayers and birthday wishes, snapped a few pictures, and began our almost 100-mile (round-trip) drive home.
As we drove slowly through the cemetery toward the main gate, noting with pride all of Richard’s “neighbors,” I spotted a beautiful scene of a park bench and some trees, and told my wife I was going to stop and take a picture of that serene scene amidst the many graves around it. Walking toward the bench I noted a headstone with a vase of flowers that had fallen over and righted it–by pure chance it was another Marine Corporal’s headstone.
As I was about to get back into my car (and as pure luck would have it), I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a headstone in the front row facing the road and only a few feet from my parked car; it had a Christian Cross and this inscription:
“Lewis William WALT, GEN US Marine Corps WWII KO (Korea of course), VIETNAM Feb 16 1913 – Mar 26 1989, Navy Cross, Silver Star, PH).”
(What the headstone did not reveal was that Gen. Walt had earned two Navy Cross Medals, one for leading a battalion of the 5th Marines on Guadalcanal, the second, also as a Battalion Commander, at the landings at Peleliu. He of course had other distinguished awards, but there is room on a headstone for only the more prominent decorations).
Just getting over the surprise of seeing this headstone, I glanced to my left and was again caught unaware by the headstone on the immediate left of Gen. Walt’s, with this inscription:
“Nancy WALT 2ND LT US Army WWII Jun 27 1917 ? Apr 16 2000, Loved By All Who Knew Her.”
Nancy Walt was a former wife of General Walt, and cared for him as an Army Nurse when he was wounded in WWII, and they were married for many years after that. (The General subsequently remarried).
To say I was “moved” is an understatement. I not only worked for Gen. Walt at HQMC but more significantly I was in both the 1st (W-1-5) and 2nd (E-2-5) Battalions of the 5th Marine Regiment in Korea (1952-1953) when then “Colonel Walt” was the Regimental Commander. This highly-decorated Marine combat veteran went on to earn four stars and serve as our Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Here were two more “neighbors” of our brother Richard (another Brother James served in 1stBn, 5th Marines with me) resting peacefully on an otherwise hot, quiet day among thousands of fellow veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the various National Guard and Reserve Units of our Armed Forces. Rank plays no favorites in this hallowed ground?what they all share in common is devotion to God, Family and Country, courage, patriotism, and immense pride for their service in the fighting forces of the United States.
My wife watched silently as I repeated what I had done for my brother Richard; I knelt at both Walt graves and said a silent prayer, and also thanked them for their outstanding service to our Country and to our Corps. (See attached pictures—the date on them of 6Aug should have been 7Aug).
One proud (but related) aside: the current Commanding Officer of the 1stBn, 5th Marines is a veteran of Desert Storm and Iraq. He is my Brother Jim’s son, and my nephew, LtCol. John G. Merna, United States Marine Corps! I know General Walt is smiling down on John as he prepares his Marines for yet another battle.
Gerald F. Merna
1stLt USMC (Retired)
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