A family of four gathered around a grave at Memorial Park Cemetery on Sunday — two little girls holding small bouquets of white flowers as their parents stood, embracing. The breeze blew gently through the cemetery as other families sorted flowers and remembered those they loved, some with smiles, others with tears. American flags danced in the wind as people came and went.
One woman, Cynthia Crum, came to Memorial Park Cemetery with her son, Branden, to place flowers next to the graves of relatives.
“I make a point to do this every year,” she said. “I have lots of relatives here, and it’s important to remember.”
For Trey McGee, Memorial Day is a painful reminder of loss. For Linda Carlos, the holiday is a chance to preserve family history. Others, like John Nowell, share fond memories. Glen Schley celebrates by flying a World War II BT-13 to Columbia each year, while Isabel Burggraaff and Sylvia Noel simply enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the cemetery.
Each, in his or her own way, remembers this Memorial Day.
Here are their stories.
Honoring their legacy
Linda Carlos and her daughter, Cynthia Roth, sat in the shade of their car Saturday at Memorial Park Cemetery with $50 worth of decorative flowers sprawled out in front of them.
“Now wait, which ones were these?” Roth asked. Pointing to a few bundles of flowers that she sorted, she remembered.
“OK, this one is for my niece, grandfather and grandmother.”
Carlos, 53, and Roth, 36, both residents of Columbia, said they have about 20 relatives buried in Memorial Park Cemetery. But they don’t just buy any kind of flowers; each bouquet is sorted to match the personality of the loved one who has died.
“We put a lot of irises in that one,” Roth said of her deceased mother’s bouquet. “My mom loved irises.”
Roth’s 14-year-old daughter Jessica also joined them for this year’s tradition. Carlos wanted to show her daughter and granddaughter where their family members were buried so they could carry on the tradition when Carlos dies.
“It’s our legacy,” Carlos said, “and I want to make sure it’s not forgotten.”
Family they never knew
Although Trey McGee appreciates the service of men and women in times of war, for him, Memorial Day has other meaning.
On Saturday, McGee and his wife, Cathy, drove to Columbia from Higbee to visit the grave of his son, Bobby, in Memorial Park Cemetery.
“He died in 1979,” McGee said. “He was a stillborn.”
McGee bent over and placed a silver and red pinwheel in a vase attached to the headstone. He stared at the wheel turning in the wind as he spoke.
“When my son first died, I came here quite a bit,” he said. “And I always would try to make stops at the other graves.”
This Memorial Day has been especially difficult for McGee.
“I just lost my mother and grandmother in January,” he said. “It’s been hard, but time makes it easier; time helps.”
Lost in paradise
When John Nowell’s father returned to Columbia after World War II, one of the first things he said he remembers was the blood on his father’s knife. What Nowell didn’t realize at the time was that the blood was not from military engagement, but rather from catching fish in paradise.
“When my dad came back, I saw that knife and thought he was involved in hand-to-hand fighting,” Nowell said. “I was in awe, until he told me the blood was from fish.”
Nowell’s father, John M. Nowell Jr., was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces and flew a B-24 Liberator bomber. Nowell said that during one flight, his father’s plane ran out of gas near Hawaii and landed in the middle of the ocean. The crew was forced to float in the ocean for several days until they spotted an island.
“They contacted the Army, and the Army told him they couldn’t pick them up for two or three weeks,” Nowell said. “So they just told my dad and the other men to enjoy themselves.”
“And I was worried about his fighting, when he was really vacationing,” he said.
Nowell said his father served during most of World War II and died in 2000 at age 81. On Saturday morning, Nowell visited the Columbia Cemetery Association not only to pay his respects, but also to think about the future. Nowell said he hopes that when he dies, he is buried next to his father.
Flying the BT-13
Glen Schley, 81, wore a smile as he sat under the silver wing of a BT-13 during the Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans Airshow.
When a man strolled up to the display Saturday afternoon and asked Schley what kind of plane it was, Schley’s smile brightened.
“Well, come sit and I’ll tell you all about it,” he said.
Schley, who served as a Marine during World War II, and the BT-13’s owner, Janet McCullough, have flown to Columbia’s airshow from Kansas City for 16 of the 18 years the show has been held. Both said flying is one of their passions.
“Glen taught me how to fly when I was young in the late ’60s,” McCullough said with a laugh. “He was a family friend, and now he’s 81 and still flying.”
McCullough has owned the plane for 17 years and chose a Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer because it was the same model Schley flew for recreation in the late 1940s. She said about 13,000 BT-13s were made, but only 25 to 30 are still in existence.
McCullough and Schley, who display the BT-13 in airshows across the country, have made a Memorial Day tradition of coming to the Columbia airshow and plan to return to the show in the years to come.
“I love coming to the airshow,” Schley said. “One of the best places in the world is to do it right here in Columbia.”
Peace in the cemetery
Isabel Burggraaff, 65, and Sylvia Noel, 70, both agree that a cemetery is a nice place to be, and not just on Memorial Day.
“I love cemeteries,” said Burggraaff, a cemetery board member. “Nothing is nicer than catching up with old friends and thinking about old memories.”
Burggraaff and Noel had set up a table in Columbia Cemetery to hand out flags and information about famous Missourians buried there.
Burggraaff and Noel, both of Columbia, said their favorite Memorial Day tradition was enjoying the peacefulness of the cemetery.
“I’ve never done any sort of special thing,” Noel said. “Except sit here with Isabel and relax and enjoy the cemetery.”
“Just to walk and enjoy this peace,” she said. “Just to talk with old friends.”