Taking the Day Personally

Families of Those Who Served Find Solace in Honoring Sacrifice

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Even in the midst of thousands of tourists and VIP vans and cannon fire and bands, Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day can be an intensely private place.

It’s a place where three siblings can hold hands by their brother’s grave and, oblivious to the throngs and traffic, say a prayer. It’s a place where a grown woman can sit beside her father’s granite tombstone and hear again in her mind the bagpiper who helped bid the World War II veteran goodbye.

And it was where Evelyn Foster and Pam Cain yesterday arranged a red and blue bouquet at the small white marker of Oscar Mauterer, an Air Force colonel who disappeared while flying over Laos more than 36 years ago at age 41. On the sweep of a hill at the cemetery’s western edge, his wife and daughter still were waiting for his remains to come home.

“He’s very much a part of our lives,” Cain said. She was 12 when her father vanished, her brother two years younger. She continues to wear the silver MIA bracelet bearing the date he was shot down: 2-15-66.

“We’ve gone on, had families . . . ” Cain’s voice slowed momentarily. “But it still comes back to you.”

As always, miniature U.S. flags greeted visitors to Arlington yesterday, one at each of the cemetery’s more than 272,000 graves. “And there’s a story behind each one,” Foster said.

This first Memorial Day since Sept. 11 attracted bigger crowds than usual. Many area residents and visitors chose to mark the day publicly, turning out for ceremonies at Arlington and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or for the 58th annual parade in Rockville, where Navy Capt. Jon Feerick, one of the first doctors to help the injured at the Pentagon, served as grand marshal.

But for many families and friends with a direct connection to the holiday, the point was not public display but personal reminiscence.

In countless tiny moments, that is what they honored. Many eschewed the official wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and steered clear of the amphitheater where 5,000 others heard Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz warn that this country faces “another hour of great testing” as it fights terrorism at home and abroad.

Instead, they brought flowers, memories and, often, a hope that the country might reflect more deeply now on sacrifice.

“The picnics, that’s not what it is,” Sarah Inglis-Baldy said as her children laid red carnations at the symbolic gravestone of their uncle, Patrick Kelley Inglis. The Naval Academy graduate, a lieutenant junior grade, was lost in the Mediterranean in 1983. He was 25.

The Ellicott City family’s ritual was punctuated by 3-year-old Mary Margaret’s prayer thanking Jesus for another day and 11-year-old Caroline’s discovery of a four-leaf clover. “Go put it up there,” her mother suggested. “He’d be proud.”

She wants their visits to make an impression on her five daughters and son, who is named for his uncle. “This is our link to him, the meaning of our loss.”

At the Vietnam memorial, the ceremonies were overwhelmingly personal — and powerful — for relatives of three Army veterans whose names were formally added to the Wall.

Janet T. King choked up as she recalled her brother, Sgt. Richard E. Toney of Bogalusa, La., who died of kidney failure less than three years after being shot while doling out supplies from the back of a Jeep.

King said her brother’s incapacitation and death at 23 devastated their parents. Both were dead within four years. “This experience was like the end of our family,” she said. “It just ripped our family up.”

With help from another Vietnam veteran, King submitted her brother’s name to be inscribed after learning that he was eligible because his death resulted directly from combat injuries. His is the newest etching on Panel 40 East. “It was difficult, very difficult,” she said, “but I think he would be proud.”

A 1968 firefight left Pfc. Paul P. Zylko of Passaic, N.J., without a right eye, right arm or left thumb, but the veteran returned home to raise a family and build a career working with people with cerebral palsy. He was 51 when he died in 1999 of the hepatitis C he contracted from a blood transfusion after his injuries. His widow, Kathy Zylko, looked hard at his name yesterday, “really accepting that he’s dead.”

And nearby, Sandra L. Harvey recalled her brother, Pfc. William E. Johnson Sr. of Cleveland, who died in 1998, 29 years after he was critically injured by friendly fire. His wounds left the mild-mannered Johnson, drafted at 19, mentally disabled. For years, he suffered seizures.

“The spirit he had, the ambition, the dreams — all of that died the day he was shot,” said Harvey, who had to produce extensive medical documentation before his name could be added to the Wall.

Yesterday, she represented all three families, reciting the three names as their sacrifice was formally honored. The memorial will mark the 20th anniversary of its dedication in November. Its black granite panels now contain 58,229 names.

At Arlington, where the names are written one headstone at a time, the stories are told the same way — by those who remain and return.

Nineteen-year-old Beau Timberlake of Tallahassee sat by himself for an hour, hugging his knees and focusing intently on the gravestone that reads “Ronald Neil Timberlake, US Army Maj.”

His father survived two tours as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, receiving the Silver Star and Purple Heart and too many other honors to be listed on a modest block of marble.

He was proud of them but never boasted, his son said. There were many stories behind his accomplishments — “many he would never tell,” Beau added.

Then, barely three years ago, Timberlake was killed in a traffic accident outside Houston. This was Beau’s first visit since the funeral.

“I had wanted to come up here for a long time,” he said. “This was the best Memorial Day weekend I’ve ever had.”

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