October 20, 2007

Positivity: A Rose from Holly

Filed under: Positivity,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 6:57 am

At the web site of Arlington National Cemetery (HT Anna at A Rose by Another Name):

Published February 18, 2007
Courtesy of John Barry and the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times

ARLINGTON, Virginia – The widows and children had bundled themselves in parkas and snowsuits. They looked very young, standing in a frozen field of white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.

It was 18 degrees, and the wind was blowing at a raw 20 mph. Each one clutched a screwdriver to punch holes in the icy ground. Holly darted among them with boxes of silk roses, her head bobbing above theirs.

She is a 6-foot-2 blond with the lanky physique of a model, except layered in sweatshirts. “Amazon infidel,” she calls herself.

She is out among the headstones every week and knows the stories behind every one. The widows and the kids took the roses and scattered among the headstones of Section 60. It’s the section set aside for men and women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 300 are laid to rest there.

The widows made their way through the rows. At their husbands’ graves, they knelt and punched at the stiff sod with their screwdrivers. Some of them had small hammers, and you could hear their tap-tapping. The children helped. When they had made their holes, they inserted the wire stems of the silk red roses. They knelt quietly in the wind.

The word had gone out by Internet that Holly would be at Section 60 on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day. Last year, she spread most of the roses herself. But this year, widows and children, mothers and fathers had heard about this woman named Holly and drove or flew in from all over the country. There were about 50 of them.

Almost no one knew her full name: Holly Holeman. She was just Holly to them, a mysterious e-mailer who had sent photos of headstones, of flowers by the graves. All year, the e-mails came, far-off reassurances that someone was taking care of the graves.

Eventually, they learned that her day job is making floral arrangements and delivering them to funerals at Arlington.

Holly had found the families through a Web site run by a Long Island businessman named Michael Patterson. It has biographies and news accounts of all American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan buried in Section 60. Patterson started it while researching the history of the cemetery for a book he has always wanted to write. Now keeping up the Web site has overtaken his book.

He got one of Holly’s mysterious e-mails one day. “She wouldn’t give me her last name. She said, ‘Here’s a photo of a new headstone. Use it if you think it’s worthwhile.’ ” He did, and soon she was sending dozens more photos. He posted them: Courtesy of Holly.

The families tried to figure it out. Each thought about the day of the funeral. Was she that tall woman they saw standing in the distance, the one partly behind a tree?

Paula Davis ran into her a year ago on her regular Sunday visit to the grave of her son Justin. He was 19 when he died last June on a rooftop in southeastern Afghanistan. Friendly fire was the suspected cause.

Davis lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, so she gets by to visit all the time, haunted by the fear that her son and all the others in Section 60 will soon be forgotten. She pictures a silent field, no visitors. “People go on with their lives,” she says.

One Sunday, a tall, fast-talking woman approached Davis. She offered oatmeal cookies and coffee. Davis learned this woman wasn’t about to forget anyone.

Go here for the rest of the story.

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