ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–The dead outnumbered the living this Memorial Day at Jefferson Barracks — a cemetery going back to the Civil War with curved-top white tombstones, each marked with an American Flag, rippling out over green hills in all directions like cruel dominoes.
“It brings back a lot of memories that you suppress or try not to think about,” said Vietnam Veteran Jim Tyra, “But how can you not think about them because that’s what you did. All those years ago, you see the faces of people that you’ve loved or served with. They’re the heroes, not the ballplayers.”
Among the World War II Vets at the ceremony, Bob Gion, 90, looked thin and fit and clear eyed.
“There aren’t many of us left,” Gion said, recalling his days as a soldier in the Pacific. He says he served in Gaudalcanal, Bouganiville and the Philippines. “Bougainville was the worst,” he said, “More jungle and heavier swamps.” Gion says his closest call was the day a Japanese machine gun nest opened up on a group of eight American soldiers walking through the jungle.
“God willing we never even had a casualty except one guy got his finger shot off, and another guy was shot in the arm,” Gion said. After some pleasantries, he walked on through the rows of tombstones.
On another field, a family of adult siblings — members of the Jurdine family — were there to visit their parents’ grave.
“We were real young when my father passed in 1968,” said Dannelle Green Jurdine of her father, a WW II vet, “But the memories I have are how to make a bed, and fold it, tuck it, and you can bounce a quarter off it.”
“I am very sad that my Dad doesn’t know who I am, who I’ve become,” McCann said, “I was twelve years old when he died. We got to go fishing and hunting and things like that.”
Also making the scene, Paul Pagano, also known as “Father Time.” Pagano, a retired produce merchant who appeared at festivals for decades dressed in red white and blue to wave at strangers, had dropped from public view into a retirement center a few years back. His relatives took him to the Memorial Day ceremony at Jefferson Barracks. Waving from a passing car, Pagano looked a little older, but still has the grin. “He’s going to be 90 soon,” a relative called out.