Obviously, this was not a normal Memorial Day at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery.
But one veteran found a way to honor those he served with and respected by spending a little time at the cemetery late last week.
This hallowed ground is now home to many men and women who put sacrifice and service above self.
“You can point to any headstone out here,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger. “They served honorably and faithfully. That’s why they are here.”
Mellinger would know. We caught up with his last week during a visit to the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery. Mellinger, who retired in 20-11 after 39 years in the Army, has a number of friends resting at Fort Mitchell.
One of those is retired Command Sergeant Major Joe Heckard.
“It’s an opportunity to come out and pay my respects to him to his service, to his contributions as a soldier, a man and a citizen and spend a little time reflecting on how he spent his life,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger did a little gardening. The last line on the marker was obscured by grass and dirt.
As Mellinger kicked away the grass the words “Never Forgotten” emerged.
That is what Memorial Day is about to Mellinger and millions of others cut out of the same cloth.
“Not everyone who rests in a national cemetery was a hero,” Mellinger said. “Some did their duty, did their service and they returned home to civilian life and made contributions elsewhere, as well. Some died in service of their nation and they are out here. Some were heroes. And they are out here.”
One of those is retired Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, another of the graves that Mellinger visited. He took photos and sent those to battle buddies across the country.
In a crowd of heroes, Bargewell stood out when they met years ago at the Second Ranger Battalion.
“He had been a non-commissioned officer when he earned his Distinguished Service Cross and later was given a commission,” Mellinger said. “He was fairly unique in that regard.”
There’s 10,000 stories buried at Fort Mitchell, Mellinger said.
“Whether they were heroes or not, that’s for their friends and family to judge,” he said. “But they served, they served well and they served our nation.”