The ‘Greatest’ Celebrations
Give our veterans the memorials they deserve

We said farewell to another member of our Greatest Generation the other day. Jim was 86, a man for whom character was more than a catchphrase. He lived a long and full life, a life built on duty and service, and it’s sad to see him go. It’s not so unusual, though; members of Jim’s generation are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day now, slowly fading from view, but hopefully, never from memory.

It’s up to all of us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need to help tell their stories, stories like Jim’s.

Jim was one of the greatest examples of our Greatest Generation. His father was a conductor on the C&O Railroad, and after going to high school through the 10th grade, Jim dropped out and answered President Roosevelt’s call to service, joining the Civilian Conservation Corps.

When the darkening skies of World War II thundered upon our shores, Jim answered his country’s call once again, joining the U.S. Army Air Corps, and trained to become a tail-gunner on the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17 bomber. Over the next two years, Jim flew more than two dozen dangerous missions all across Europe, from France to Norway to Germany.

On his very last mission, his plane was shot down on the return trip, and crash-landed into the English Channel. Half of the crew perished; Jim was one of the lucky ones, and only lost the hearing in one ear. He was reported as Killed In Action, which made for quite a surprise when he got back to the base!

When the decorated Staff Sergeant was discharged, he did what so many of his comrades did: he returned home, got married, and began raising three fine children, who made him very proud. He was a great provider for his family, as well, and helped build office furniture for a booming workforce. Jim walked to work every day, for his entire 40-year career at the company.

Loyalty, duty, sacrifice.

No generation before or since has epitomized those values more, or embraced tradition as a lifestyle more than they did. Jim’s generation quietly did what needed to be done, never asking for reward, only for respect. So now, as their time with us comes to an end, how do we memorialize them? While they may want something simple, something modest, they deserve so much more.

They deserve to have their stories told, and remembered, and preserved for the generations to come, to learn from their hard work and sacrifice. Their lives deserve to be celebrated.

What are you doing to celebrate them?


Don Shell is a staff writer for Life Story Network®, a Portage, Michigan-based multimedia company serving 15 independently-owned funeral homes in the Midwest. For more information, visit, or email Don at 



The U.S. Military Baseball All-Stars came to my neck of the woods in late June to play a little ball and spread some goodwill.

And while they lost a close game to our hometown boys (The Leesburg Lightning, whose pitcher’s got one HECK of an arm) they showed us all what dedication and perserverance can do for a country.

90% of the U.S. Military All-Stars have served at least one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The yellow ‘S’ on their uniforms is meant to signify the yellow ribbon of support that regular citizens like you and I might display.

 Now, I’m not a huge baseball fan.  In fact, I would usually say that it’s a poor excuse to eat a hotdog, but this game was different.

The pre-game ceremonies were more meaningful, as the presentation of the colors and the singing of the national anthem went from just another opportunity to hear someone either do the song justice or destroy it, to a time to mediate upon the sacrifices and hardships these young men (and many others like them) endure on our behalf.

Equally impressive, the all-star team accepts no government or military funding.  They accept donations and get private sponsorships because they want all gov’t and military funds to go toward protecting men and women in combat.

And while I don’t need to be reminded why I admire our soldiers, I’m glad I got to be there for this one.

It’s an old news story.  It’s also a news story that gets repeated every week across our country.

James Cathey was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines.  Leading a group in Iraq, he was killed in an explosion while investigating a booby-trapped building.

You can read Jim Sheeler’s beautifully-written 12-part story from the Rocky Mountain News here.  Detailing the important work of casualty officers and the difficult moment of a death notification, the article also provides a glimpse into the grief process for military families.

I dare you to read it without crying like a baby.  Especially moving is the description of the last night Lt. Cathey’s pregnant wife spent with him – at the funeral home. 

Photo by Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News

Excerpt from The Rocky Mountain News: 

Inside the mortuary the night before Cathey’s funeral, two Marines stood near the casket, unfurling sheets on a makeshift bed.

“Make it look nice, dude, make it look nice,” one of them said.

“Who are you, Martha Stewart?” the other shot back with a grin.

Another looked at the blanket.

“If you’re pregnant, do you get hot or cold?”

One of the Marines who has a child of his own looked at the bed.

“She’s going to need another pillow,” he said. “Since she’s pregnant, she’ll need to put a pillow between her legs.”

Follow this link to the full story.

Killed in battle in Iraq, Marine Corporal Brett Lundstrom was honored by his people, the Lakota (a Native American Indian Tribe) with the traditional burial customs.

His body was placed in the tent overnight so that he could communicate with the spirits of ancestors who died before him.  The Lakota believe that these spirits will guide him to the spirit world.

Read more about Cpl. Lundstrom and see fascinating pictures of the funeral at Heyoka Magazine.

We’ve suggested before (in a beautifully worded podcast titled “Trunk Full of Flowers“) that you carry extra flowers with you when you conduct funerals in a cemetery.

When the funeral is over, you can place the flowers on other graves.  Just make sure  you’ve got the flowers tagged with a sign that indicates your gift.

Robert Falcon (left) of Heritage Funeral Home in Killeen, Texas took our advice to heart and tested it Easter 2007.  He visited the cemetery and gave away carnations.

Even though they had an unexpected snowfall and cemetery attendance was down, Robert still passed out a few hundred dollars worth of flowers.

Robert now reports that one of the women he spoke to in the cemetery has made funeral prearrangements with his firm. 

While I don’t think you should spend $200 to attract just one pre-need contract, I do know that Robert had more impact than just the one sale.  each person he spoke to (hopefully) left with a better opinion of Heritage Funeral Home and their staff.


Banks, government offices and the Postal Service will all be closed this Monday for Memorial Day.  Many of your clients may have decided to postpone arrangements because of the day.

Why not take a quiet day to not only honor the dead who served our military, but make a positive impression on their families?  I’d suggest that you try one of the following:

– Call a nursing home supervisor and offer to take a group of seniors (the more mobile ones) to visit loved ones in local cemeteries.  Use your limousines or a big van.

– Position yourself at the entrance of a local cemetery and offer visitors an American flag and flowers to place on their loved one’s grave.  If they say that their loved one wasn’t a veteran, explain the purpose of Memorial Day and offer a flag to be placed on a veteran’s grave in the cemetery.

– Place a flower (with a tag that indicates your funeral home’s name) on the grave of every veteran in a local cemetery

– Place an ad in the newspaper announcing free flowers for veteran cemetery placement if the requester comes to the funeral home.  (Have your staff place each flower arrangement while you’re at the cemetery on Memorial Day.)

Do more.  Be an asset to your community.  They’ll remember it.

According to a Pentagon survey, there are 1,800 Wiccans in the armed forces.  The Wiccan faith is mentioned in official handbooks for military chaplains and noted on each Wiccan soldier’s dog tags.

But until this month, they could not have the symbol of their faith, the pentacle, engraved on their military headstone.  That space was reserved for crosses, the Star of David and 36 other approved religious symbols.

Here’s a picture of the pentacle that signifies the Wiccan faith.  Still unsure of what Wicca really is?  Here’s the Wikipedia definition.  The photo is used with permission from Elizabeth Winterbourne of Pagan-Wholesale, which owns the copyright.

On Friday, April 20, The Department of Veteran Affairs settled a lawsuit brought by family members of fallen soldiers who were professed Wiccans. 

From the New York Times article:

The group attributed the delay to religious discrimination. Many Americans do not consider Wicca a religion, or hold the mistaken belief that Wiccans are devil worshipers.

“The Wiccan families we represented were in no way asking for special treatment,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said at a news conference Monday. “They wanted precisely the same treatment that dozens of other religions already had received from the department, an acknowledgment that their spiritual beliefs were on par with those of everyone else.”