Under azure skies dappled with white pillows of clouds, approximately 300 islanders gathered in Vashon Cemetery to honor the nation’s fallen veterans on Memorial Day.
The cemetery seemed dressed up in its finest for the ceremony, with its rolling grounds splashed with the almost fluorescent colors of fully flowering rhododendrons and more muted but no less stunning greenery of graceful maple trees and majestic firs.
Vashon’s Scout Troupe 294 had made preparations for the ceremony, fulfilling its yearly duty to place small American flags on the final resting places of the more than 600 veterans who are buried there.
Mike Mattingly, commander of Vashon’s chapter of the American Legion, opened the service with solemn words of gratitude to members of the military who had died in combat, as well as to their families.
“It’s daunting, I know, when we think of the tremendous sacrifices veterans and survivors have made, physically and emotionally,” he said. “How can we possibly say thanks? There are no words. But there are actions. We could and should spend some time reflecting on the service and the sacrifice and live in gratitude each and every day for the precious gift they have given us. As a nation, we made a promise. A promise that must be kept, to honor our fallen.”
Then came the color guard, with Commander John Burke, of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War, leading local scouts in the presentation of the flags.
Representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Hero Quilts, Vashon Veterans Association, Vashon Scouts, the Eagles, Masons, Rotary Club and the Sportsmen’s Club presented wreaths and made short remarks, and then came a short program by Vashon’s Judd Creek Gospel Singers, who sang both hymns and rousing folk songs that seemed written for the occasion.
James Robinson presented a history of Memorial Day, which was followed by John Dally’s expert and heartfelt playing of bagpipes.
This year, the ceremony also included a new element: a bell ceremony conducted by members of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue.
Introduced by Fire Chief Charles Krimmert, in full dress uniform, the ceremony included the ringing of a bell tone, seven times, at seven-second intervals, to signify the following attributes of fallen veterans: the choice to serve, camaraderie, patriotism, dignity, honor and value of life.
Lisa Devereau, director of the island’s funeral service and a Vashon Cemetery District commissioner, also spoke at the service, beginning her speech by asking for a moment of silence for the those who had died in the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, noting the event marked the 27th school shooting in 2022, along with other mass casualty events.
“Our thoughts and prayers are no longer enough,” she said. “Please look for a way to help make changes in laws and government, for everyone’s safety. Our beloved sons and daughters, fathers, brothers and sisters gave their lives so that we would have a better, safer life. Let’s work together to make changes in their honor.”
Devereau also spoke about the cemetery’s newly installed new rockery at its entrance, which features a large boulder that came from her home on Cemetery Road. The rock, she said had been found by islander Yoneichi Matsuda, while tilling a four-acre field that her father had leased to him to use as a strawberry field.
“Yonechi and my dad dug it out and placed it on the corner of the field, and for years, my dad said he wanted to have it engraved to say, ‘Ryan’s Rock.’ Life happened and the rock stayed blank.”
A few months ago, she said, she had asked for and was given the rock, and had it moved to the cemetery’s entrance.
“It now reads ‘Vashon Cemetery, established in 1888, and on the backside, in small letters, “Ryan’s Rock,’” she said.
Devereau said the new monument is a fitting tribute to both two men — her father and Matsuda — who both fought for their country, one in WWII and the other in Korea.
“They went on to live and raise their families side by side and together, unearthed a big boulder, and for that, they’ll be remembered,” Devereau said. “And we will remember all those who gave all, in this small cemetery guarded by two soldiers.”