I'm Oliver Webber, here with my research assistant, Kaydence Ribetnauer. You may not be able to see us because we're tucked in between these blades of grass, waiting for our next meal to fly in and land on one of them. To nourish our bodies and souls, we ponder leaves. We encourage contemplation... especially in regard to issues that will have to be handled when we become worm grub. We hope to motivate others to thoughtfully cultivate preferences and decisions while still vigorously leaping around. We recommend croaking... using voices to broadcast wishes before it's too late to have a voice in this matter. Other than a sumptuous supply of insects, this is assuredly the most "toad-ally" considerate gift we could leave for our life companions! Don't you agree? We invite you to get your feet wet by joining our pond of pondering pre-planners. Let's make croaking meaningful!

Monday, October 26, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL... West Point, New York


The pastoral burial property is located in the Hudson Valley Highlands within the gates of the United States Military Academy.  

Photo Source: Wikipedia.org

Sheltered by trees, the West Point Cemetery, America’s oldest military cemetery and a national historic landmark, has served as quarters for men and women deployed to heaven from the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) to the present.  Though not officially designated as a military cemetery until 1817, this promontory that was originally known as the “German Flats” had been utilized for interments of soldiers and local residents for several decades before that time.  After its formal classification as a cemetery, remains from several small gravesites scattered elsewhere on the post were moved here, along with others found during excavations for new construction projects.   

With a nod to the significance of this 8,000-strong underground detachment, the spirits of comrades, classmates, and others are mired in the hearts and minds of patriots still engaged in life’s operations.  Besides the military academy’s superintendents, past and present members of the Corps of Cadets, as well as its faculty and staff, leaders of every American war have been buried here.  Their physical remains and that of their families have been joined also by those of acclaimed engineers, athletes, and clergy… the old as well as the young:  

The Medal of Honor distinguishes twenty-four of the decedents.  

The number of West Point superintendents tallies twenty-five, including Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer, Class of 1808, who was afforded the title, “Father of West Point.”  Major General Winfield Scott was dubbed the “Grand Old Man of the Army.”  Names that tend to surface in elementary school history reviews include the Civil War cavalry commander, Colonel Custer, Class of 1861, and Major Anderson, Class of 1825, commander of Fort Sumter at the onset of the Civil War.  

Of more recent recognition might be Lieutenant Colonel Edward White from the Class of 1952, who was the first American to walk in space and subsequently died aboard Apollo One.  Interment of William Westmoreland, Class of 1936, who had been an extolled commander of various military operations, took place in 2005.  The cremated remains of Persian Gulf War commander and Class of 1956 graduate, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, were buried amid majestic military pomp in February, 2013, next to the plot of his father (Class of 1917), who was the founder of the New Jersey Police.      

Women are part of the encampment here as well.  A Revolutionary War heroine, Margaret “Molly” Corbin, engaged in battle as a surrogate for her mortally wounded husband and became the first female to be awarded privileges as a disabled veteran.  Second Lieutenant Emily Perez, Class of 2005, was the first female minority graduate, killed in 2006 by a bomb while leading a convoy; she was the first female African-American officer from West Point to die in combat, specifically, during the Iraq War.

So many individuals represented here had garnered plaudits for their accomplishments, while others were destined to the compound because of familial attachments.  The remains of some of the country’s most notable figures may be stationed next to those of people unknown to the masses; long-established gravesites and headstones are within range of newly excavated earth. 

Lying within a plain of dirt in close proximity to one another, this mosaic-like squad of the famous and those relatively undistinguished according to societal standards attests to an oft-quoted reality:  Death is the great leveler and all earthly glories vanish in death.  

“In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. 
There is neither rank nor station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave.”

                                                                                                         ~ John James Ingalls

Visitors may come to attention here, prompted by realization of a deviation from other military burial grounds.  In contrast to the Academy's campus milieu otherwise manifesting strictly defined formations and obligatory precision, the appearance of its cemetery might be unexpected.  Instead of the familiar sea of white tablets lined up repetitively in equidistant rows at other countrywide sites, there is a heterogeneous mix of stone memorials placed irregularly.  Rather than uniformity there is diversity.

Personally acquired stone memorials of various sorts are situated among the standard military versions.  

Some of the older ones are especially eye-catching because of their distinctions.  The headstone commemorating an eminent Army football coach, Earl “Red” Blaik, is in the shape of a football positioned for kick-off.  The body of a Civil War veteran, Egbert Viele, was interred in a two-story pyramid under the guardianship of two stone sphinxes.   

Photo Source:  ForUsAll Campaign for West Point, Cemetery Marketing

One- and two-hour bus tours are operated to enlighten people about the lives of historical figures and afford them an opportunity to absorb the surroundings.  Visitors are welcome all year round, throughout the week from sunrise to sunset, free to explore the grounds on foot.  There has been no master plan for plot arrangements and assignments.  Caretakers have made an effort to place the remains of classmates and friends close to one another.  Those that are casualties from the major wars may be in clustered sections.  

The caretaker’s cottage, erected in 1872, stands appropriately in guardianship adjacent to gravesites.
Photo Source: Wikipedia West Point media file

Originally, the Old Cadet Chapel was located across from the post’s clock tower at Bartlett Hall.  In 1910 when demolition was its proposed fate, a cadre of cadets who wanted it saved for posterity prompted its relocation to the cemetery.  
           Photo Source: Wikipedia West Point media file               

Contemporary columbarium walls follow the circular pattern of the cemetery’s layout.  

Photo Source:  ForUsAll Campaign for West Point, Cemetery Marketing

These burial grounds so rife with historical relevance are also filled to the gill with underground occupants.  After two centuries of open enrollment, so to speak, the capacity of this twelve-acre parcel is dwindling.  At the current rate of occupancy – one hundred forty to two hundred remains per year – it had been predicted that options for full bodily burials would evaporate within a decade.  Fortunately, that prospect has been addressed by the Academy and its graduates who have taken steps for expansion of the grounds as well as the construction of columbaria.  A development project was boosted by a monetary gift from the Class of 2011.  Plans include an embellishment of the modern age – a smartphone app that will enable visitors to identify sites.  

As a member of the association of graduates, Lieutenant Colonel Freed Lowrey, Class of 1967 and a Vietnam War veteran, has been active in raising funds for the project.  He aspires to be buried here in the company of classmates and comrades who died in the warfare they experienced together.  

“I want to be among soldiers.  I want to be among people of my own kind who have served and done so much for the nation and have sacrificed so much.  
I could be in Arlington, I could be in any national cemetery, but this is – and I’m not a religious person – I mean, West Point’s almost my soul.”  
                                                                                                    ~ Freed Lowrey

Noted in a mission statement, the intent of the West Point Cemetery is to deliver a final salute to those who have served the country.  Through commemorative actions and memorial tributes, may it be said, “Well done; be thou at peace.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL… Point Loma (San Diego), California


San Diego bespeaks a lively military presence, with all sorts of US Navy ships docked in the harbor and naval base facilities fully operational, including the Naval Special Operations Unit where SEAL training is conducted at the Coronado Island Naval Amphibious Base.  About ten miles west of the central hub, tucked away toward the end of the Point Loma peninsula, a national cemetery administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs occupies about seventy-seven acres that formerly constituted the site of an Army coastal artillery station.  

Bisected by Catalina Boulevard, it abuts two sides of this main road that takes tourists to the historic Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma’s Lighthouse, a national park’s attractions a mile away at the end of the peninsula. 

Travelers in cars might not pay attention to the communal treasure through which they pass to reach the tourist attractions… after all, it’s “just” a cemetery.  But if they divert from the beaten track, get out of their confined spaces and look around, they are apt to be enthralled by what they see.  

Whether overlooking a sweeping panorama of animated city and aquatic activities on the San Diego Bay side of the grounds or the infinite waters of the Pacific Ocean on the other side, an essence of peace pervades the atmosphere.  

People have referred to the cemetery’s ambience using words like “solitude,” “tranquility,” “solace,” and “beauty.”  “Breathtaking” is a commonly expressed descriptive adjective.  One visitor noted that words can’t describe the depth of the beautiful views, dubbing the environment here absolutely unbelievable.  A local resident considers it the best and most amazing cemetery she has ever seen, adding that it brings tears to her eyes every time she visits.  Someone felt transformed while there, recognizing a changed perspective and an appreciation for that which individuals sacrificed to keep our country free and the peacekeeper of the world.  Yet another person opined that it is the best location on earth for a final resting place. 

So what is it that instills such riveting admiration among visitors?  Perhaps the ardor can be attributed, yet again, to nature’s splendor that accents man’s strategic intervention.  

There’s something about an expanse of water that summons the soul and frees the spirit.  At this site, the body of water below the spread of elevated terrain bearing bodily remains underscores that sense.  In a burial milieu, one naturally thinks about souls… here, amid a dynamic mural of awe-inspiring marvel, perhaps especially so.  Above the cacophony of distant life, in the heights of this landmark resting place a visitor is apt to feel an ethereal aura magnified by a spiritually uplifting tenor.  One can easily fathom sequestered souls communing with readily accessible heavenly hosts.

“… hear from heaven our sailor's cry, 
     And grant eternal life on high!”
                                                                                          (an alternate verse adapted to the Navy Hymn, author unknown)

Is this state of transfixed reverence due to the gently buffeting ocean breeze or the shimmering sapphire waters of the bay or ocean below?  Are the sweeping views so mesmerizing that one succumbs to endorphin-induced bliss?  

Or might it be the conspicuous white marble crosses on this property that command the attention of rapture?  Could it be the vastness of graves amid the stillness, the sheer numbers of venerated veterans whose lives were cut short in missions of valor?  

Decedents of different eras have been interred here over the course of a century and a half.  They include veterans of the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam battles, the Gulf Wars, and other military operations, along with qualified family members.  Ground burials and columbaria inurnments amount to over 112,000, including twenty-three Medal of Honor recipients.  

The cemetery’s name stems from its location on the grounds of the former Fort Rosecrans.  It became a national cemetery in October of 1934 based on a need for more space due to changes in legislation increasing the number of people who would be eligible for burial in a national cemetery.  

In recent years long walls of columbaria were added to accommodate the cremated remains of thousands of additional World War II veterans.  The extensive lineation of structures replaced old chain-link fencing.  

Additionally, "Columbarium Court" was designed with rows of niche structures lined up in military-style precision.

Visitors to this section overlooking the Point Loma Naval Base can capture views of downtown San Diego and the bay.  

Memorial tablets and grave markers bear an individual’s name, lifespan dates, rank, places served, emblems, and sometimes a few succinctly relevant words.  

A number of monuments and memorials serve as tributes to groups of individuals who died under varying circumstances.  One is specific, such as the seventy-five-foot-tall granite obelisk that recognizes the deaths of sixty-two sailors who died in a boiler explosion aboard the USS Bennington in the San Diego harbor on July 21, 1905.  Others are composites with listings of soldiers from different missions, such as this one dedicated in 1995 to men who died in particular battles while aboard the identified ships.  

A committal service shelter blends into the environment unobtrusively, away from administrative, maintenance, and burial operations as well as the actual gravesite.  
Brief commemorative services are conducted here, highlighted by the customary military honors protocol conducted by military honors or volunteer honor guard teams.

The roofed, open-air pavilion provides seating for the immediate family and friends, accommodating ten to twenty people.  An uncovered paved area affords room for approximately fifty additional guests.  

Cones can be utilized for placement of flowers in the gravel strip alongside the columbarium.  Potted plants are permitted for a short time during holiday periods.  Floral pieces are removed by maintenance crews when they wilt or become unsightly.  Artificial flowers are permitted, but are removed on the last Friday of each month to facilitate maintenance measures.  Flowers or memorabilia directly on top of the columbarium or attached to niche fronts are strictly forbidden.  

A visitor from Houston, Texas summed up his impressions by declaring that this is one of the nicest military cemeteries you’d ever visit, ranking it on a par with Arlington Cemetery.  He encourages people to soak in the beauty and peacefulness while honoring the spirits of the bodily remains reposing here.

A final destination in this five-star cemetery with its clean and well-maintained grounds has been an aspiration of many eligible veterans who are currently alive and well.  Unfortunately, they must find alternative sites because the cemetery has run out of room, having filled the last remaining unclaimed niche spaces in May of 2014.  The columbaria had been the only available option, as most casket burials had been terminated in 1966.  Accommodations nowadays are limited to veterans who already have a niche or burial site because of a spouse already interred there.    

But the fact that this saturated state of affairs signaling maximum capacity has been reached does not affect anyone who merely wants to visit the property.  By adding it to a travel agenda, a new dimension in the military realm may be experienced and appreciated.  Here in a cemetery, history can come alive in a spirit of enlightenment.  In this particular one, a purview of glorious literal and spiritual horizons can be relished, as atop a hilly ridge one peers at the convergence of land and sea, basking in a heavenly haven.