FORT GIBSON, Okla. — “I Come to the Garden Alone” was the opening hymn of a Moment of Remembrance service Wednesday at Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
However, the 11 veterans honored at the service were not alone.
American Legion members from Haskell and Muskogee saluted their memory. Six members of the Daughters of the American Revolution gathered to pay their respects. Individual veterans and others came to remember.
“I read in the paper these guys didn’t have anyone at their funerals,” said Bill Lonkerd of Oologah, a member of an American Legion post in El Reno. “I came to remember some of our own.”
These 11 veterans had been buried at the cemetery, but no family members could be found to attend their burials. The Moment of Remembrance is a way to help people honor the veterans, said the cemetery’s director, Bill Rhoades.
Wednesday’s service was the first of what will be monthly memorials for veterans buried at the cemetery with no known family, he said.
“This gives us an opportunity to slow the operations down at the cemetery,” Rhoades said. “Some people who always work here are always doing work while we have services. This gives them opportunity to pay their respects.”
Bill Isbell, a program assistant at the cemetery, said “a good number of veterans” work there.
Rhoades said the service also allows the public an opportunity to honor the veterans.
During the service, Forrest Kirk, the chaplain of Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, quoted from Proverbs 27:10 – “Better is a friend nearby than a brother far away.”
Kirk said those who came to the ceremony honored the 11 veterans in the same way the Good Samaritan honored the man who fell by the wayside. The parable tells of a Samaritan who helped an injured man after a Levite and a priest ignored him.
“The victim in the story is like the 11 we honor today,” Kirk said. “They lived their lives. They served their country. They had their dreams. They fell on hard times. Something happened in their lives and they ended up alone.”
Lonkerd commented: “These veterans went through hell. Maybe not during a war, but afterwards. They might have had PTSD, a family break-up. Some may have committed suicide. It’s probably tougher on them after they get out of the service.”
He said some of the names read during the service “almost sounded familiar.”
“They may have been in our units way back when,” he said.
Diana Garman-Lonkerd, who accompanied her husband, said she plans to tell people to come to future services.
“They gave the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.
Garman-Lonkerd is a member of a Claremore American Legion auxiliary.
Sharon DeLoache of Tahlequah joined five other DAR members at the service.
“I was so glad these men had received a proper send-off,” she said, adding that the veterans should know “people cared for them as they were there for America.”
Isbell said the 11 veterans, who represented various military branches, had been buried or interred at the cemetery since October.
He said the cemetery usually handles three such veterans each month.