Does it sometimes seem, reading the news, that world is going to hell in a handbag? Well here’s a Veterans Day story that might change that nihilistic mindset. A World War II veteran got his last wish. And it was simple, poignant one: WWII vet Kenneth Spilman got to rest in peace in his beloved Arlington National Cemetery. Good Morning America reported Nov. 11, that Mr. Spilman was the unofficial caretaker and wreath-layer at Arlington. Even in his late 80s, the WWII vet continued to journey to Arlington National Cemetery from his home in Reston, Virginia.
Spilman believed that Arlington was the greatest place on earth. He was the “Veterans Affairs” representative for the dead. On Veterans Day, Memorial Day, whenever he could, the WWII vet would visit. Spilman tended the graves, kept the departed company and mourned them, especially the newbies. Mr. Spilman had a special spot in his heart for the “residents” of Section 60–the spot where the newly dead are buried. Many are mere kids fresh from Iraq and Afghanistan–just as the WWII vet was a lad in the Army motorcycle police in Europe 70 years ago.
His wife Marie-Louise Spilman wasn’t totally sure just what he did, because like every solider who saw a lot, Spilman didn’t talk about it. She knew, as did many in the area, that her husband was one of six sons all serving in WWII. She knew Mr. Spilman spent some time in former Nazi-occupied Germany, digging out the mass graves and giving the dead proper burial. It may never be known for sure, but Spilman may have been with the American troops that first saw the horrific concentration camps after the Nazis fled. Spilman probably knows at thing or two about what it’s like to see the deceased not honored. The WWII vet probably saw more evidence of man’s inhumanity to man than anyone should.
So he decided perhaps, that as he cared for the dead in Germany, he should care for the fallen American military, too. Spilman may have felt that in tending graves of U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen, he was honoring the fallen death camp victims for families whose fate was known only to God. Sometimes, his devotion to self-imposed duty was too painful for Mrs. Spilman. It was understandably, probably agonizing to relive the grief, the survivor guilt, with her WWII vet husband, Memorial Day after Memorial Day, Veterans Day after Veterans Day. Because Spilman didn’t just tend the Arlington graves of those he knew–he tended them all–faithfully. And now, perhaps, hopefully, others will tend his grave under the dogwood in the great Arlington National Cemetery. That would be a good spiritual work of mercy for Veterans Day.