THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
From My Window
Issue Date: May 11, 2022
Jane Thibodeau Martin
A Tribute to Dad
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
A few weeks ago my Mom and I were out and about in Menominee. At a local establishment, I noticed a table of three older gentlemen, all lively and having a great time over their lunch. I almost elbowed my mom to tell her there were some "hot guys" sitting behind her but I didn't know if she'd appreciate my humor. To my surprise, when we started to leave, one of them called mom over by name and chatted with her.
During their conversation he said, "I saw Dave the other day, so when you visit, you will see a dime there." Both Mom and I found the comment puzzling. My father has been dead for more than five years, and I didn't understand the reference to dimes.
When we returned to mom's house my sister dropped in and I mentioned the comment to her. She immediately knew the reference, and said it was a veteran's signal. She explained leaving a coin on a grave marker is a way of sending a message.
I dug into this later at home, and it is a tradition that has existed since Roman times. The coin is meant as a message to the deceased warrior/veteran's family, and is a signal that someone else has visited the grave to pay their respects. Traditionally, a penny means someone visited a gravesite. A nickel indicates you and the deceased trained at boot camp together. A dime means you served together in some capacity. A quarter means you were present when the veteran died during their service.
This told me mom's friend was a veteran of World War II, and I must say he's doing very well for his age. There are very few of the "greatest generation" veterans left alive among us, and each one of them has become a national treasure.
Money left at graves in national and state veteran's cemeteries is eventually collected, often once a year, and the funds put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.
There are similar customs for Jewish graves, where it is customary to leave a small stone or pebble at the gravesite as a message that you called to pay your respects and wanted the family to know that a visitor remembered their deceased family member.
I found this very touching. It may seem like a small thing, but it is so respectful, so unobtrusive. It meant a lot to me that someone outside our immediate family chose to honor my father, and remembers the sacrifices he made in combat and in prisoner of war camp.
I thought of this against the backdrop of the terrible invasion of Ukraine. The suffering of the people troubles me greatly and I believe the reason I find it so horrifying is because while I never personally experienced the inhumanity of war, my father lived it. His compassionate description of the suffering of the guards at his prison camp, who also worried about family members at home, and had little to eat; not much better off than the prisoners, stayed with me. It takes respect for humanity to notice the suffering of your captors. After the prison guards abandoned his camp in retreat toward the end of the war, Dad and some of his fellow prisoners well enough to walk set out to meet the incoming liberators. His description of the poverty, destroyed countryside and grief among the civilian inhabitants of the area near Dresden, Germany, that he traversed shocked and appalled me. Few win when humans war. Losses are vast and heartaches universal among both "winners" and "losers." Hearing this truth from someone who was there was incalculably valuable, if painful to me. It is why the people of Ukraine's struggles gnaw at me.
Thank you sir, your kindness means a lot to my family and me. Thank you for helping me learn about a custom I wasn't familiar with, but love. I can't imagine ever getting something for ten cents again that would mean as much to me. And thank YOU for YOUR service.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.