Della was both sad and grateful that she knew no one buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. It was not that she'd never been touched by the death of a veteran; every major conflict of the last fifty years had seen at least one of her friends or family end up a casualty. But those graves were far from the city she now called home – too far for a visit on Decoration Day. So she came here instead, bringing a little wreath, and laid it quietly at the foot of the granite obelisk which read "In Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in Defense of Their Country."
Usually she did not come on the day itself, both because the cemetery was too crowded for her liking then and because activities with friends seemed to claim the majority of any holiday. Instead she would come within a day or so on either side of the 30th, as work permitted. This year her opportunity fell on the 31st, a Saturday, and she rose early in order to be at the gates when they opened in the cool, fresh morning. She had offered her little tribute and was walking slowly toward the entrance again when she noticed a familiar figure coming down the path. He noticed her too.
"Good morning, Della," he said politely, stopping and touching the brim of his hat.
"Good morning, Hamilton," she replied, and couldn't help staring a little. She'd never seen him wear anything other than suits and ties. In a brown corduroy jacket and flat front, cotton slacks, he looked... softer, somehow. Then she noticed the flowers and small flags he was holding. "Did you know someone here?" she asked, surprise and curiosity momentarily overriding tact. "If you don't mind my asking," she added in her next breath. He smiled slightly to indicate that there was no offense.
"Yes, I did. More than one. You?"
"No. Others, elsewhere... but not here." This was a chance: a chance to bring cold names and dates to life, to create a personal connection so that she wouldn't feel quite so much an outsider during her yearly visits. She paused, her mind wavering. There in the morning stillness, on that sacred ground, he seemed more open and approachable than ever before – whether because he was different or because she was, she couldn't say. In any case, Della felt almost unafraid to ask the question on her lips. Almost. Fortunately, he seemed to read her mind and asked it for her.
"Would you, uh... like to... 'meet' my friends?" He sounded a touch uncertain and added a jesting smile as an attempt to compensate.
"Yes, I would," she replied, giving him a sincere smile in return. The two turned and walked together toward the rows and rows of neat, white gravestones.
When they finally left the cemetery that day, Della found herself much more knowledgeable - not just about two of Hamilton's former comrades, but about the hopes upheld and sacrifices made by many good, brave men, not so long ago.
Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.
- Theodore O'Hara