Tag Archives: military honors

Cemeteries Offer Great Lessons in History

As any serious genealogist will tell you, a visit to a cemetery can provide a wealth of family history information. But it can be much more than that. Each year as we approach All Souls Day (November 2), the season presents an opportunity to renew and maintain family connections, just by walking through a cemetery.

Southeastern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove, Wisconsin.
Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove, Wisconsin.

One of the most touching scenes I’ve encountered was at a small cemetery in Augsburg, Germany. Walking past after dark, I looked through the small gate to see dozens of flickering vigil candles. These were not solar lights but real candles. Someone cared enough to visit there each night and light the votives.

A 20-minute walk through any cemetery will provide you access to family stories. Parents who lived long, full lives. Others who died much too young. Babies, some just one day old. Some who were never born. John and Jane Does, victims of murder. And in many older cemeteries, some of the departed rest with no visible monuments. Their markers were damaged or swallowed up in soft ground or by encroaching woods.

This anchor-themed monument is at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Portage, Wisconsin.
This anchor-themed monument is at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Portage, Wisconsin.

Observe the different monuments. Some are massive obelisks, others plain, square markers. A few are made from unusual materials. Some display incredible artistry. In many German cemeteries you will see monuments with engraved hands pointing to Heaven. Angels, crosses and even anchors are common subject of monument carvings.

Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin, is itself a monument to neglect.
Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin, is itself a monument to neglect.

Some cemeteries are known more for their infamy, such as Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin. We chronicled that story earlier in “A Sad Resting Place for Little Ida.” It is sad to see a cemetery fall into neglect and disrepair. It’s especially angering when a cemetery is targeted by vandals. A few years back, thugs toppled more than 100 monuments at Calvary Cemetery and Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin. My Knights of Columbus council spent several weekends righting the monuments and making extensive repairs. Most of the damage was fixed, but some especially old stones were beyond repair.

John Clark and John Murphy of the Knights of Columbus repair vandalized monuments in Racine, Wisconsin.
John Clark and John Murphy of the Knights of Columbus repair vandalized monuments in Racine, Wisconsin.

Military cemeteries and the graves of soldiers are especially touching. I recall walking row after row of World War I grave markers in Ypres, Belgium, where the famous poem In Flanders Fields was composed in 1915. All of those young lives cut short by “the war to end all wars.” Such sacrifice. World War I cemeteries dot the landscape in Belgium; some in the middle of farm fields.

Grave of an unknown soldier near Ypres, Belgium.
Grave of an unknown soldier near Ypres, Belgium.

While our loved ones are gone, they can teach us still. There are great resources available to help you find where your relatives are buried. My favorite online database is the Find A Grave web site. Take a camera along on your next trip to the cemetery and help your fellow genealogists document history.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

Three Rifle Shots, Taps and a Final Salute

CRACK! The sound of the first rifle shot left an echo that trailed onto the horizon. We flinched just a bit when the first volley was fired, then heard the barely audible jingle of the ejected brass shell dancing across the pavement. Then silence, followed by orders to fire again. CRACK! A third report rumbled across the landscape. Men and women alike clutched tissues and dabbed tears at the sights, sounds and emotion of the military honor guard that paid tribute Tuesday to my father-in-law, Ronald C. LaCanne.

Ronald C. LaCanne served in the U.S. Army from 1958-1961.
Ronald C. LaCanne served in the U.S. Army from 1958-1961.

Darkness had already fallen outside of the Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home in Racine, Wisconsin, adding to the drama. Everyone stood motionless as two uniformed veterans folded the American flag and presented it to my mother-in-law, Eileen. The slow, steady salute they gave before the flag was a sign of deep respect. It was followed by the playing of Taps. Everyone was choked up to witness such a moving ceremony.

Ron served in the United States Army in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the height of the Cold War era. He was an intelligence officer stationed somewhere in the hinterlands of Alaska, within listening distance of the Soviet Union. He never talked about the work he did there, not wanting in any way to betray national secrets, even 50 years later. He took his commitment that seriously. That is a man of honor.

If you know a veteran, take time today to thank them for serving the United States of America. It’s important that they know our nation is grateful for their sacrifices.

Ron LaCanne was entombed Wednesday at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in  Union Grove. Grandchildren Ruby Hanneman and Joshua LaCanne pause at the columbarium wall.
Ron LaCanne was entombed Wednesday at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove. Grandchildren Ruby Hanneman and Joshua LaCanne pause at the columbarium wall.

At the close of Ron’s visitation and the impressive military honors, my thoughts turned to things eternal. Considering his moving journey of faith while dying from cancer, I thought of two passages from the Gospels.

John Chapter 16 offers encouragement to those who have watched a loved one struggle with terminal illness. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage. I have overcome the world.” Matthew Chapter 25 seemed so fitting as we turned to leave the memorial service. I could almost hear the words echo from Heaven: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. …Come, share your master’s joy.”

Requiescat in pace, Gramps.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive