Memorial Day service slated May 29 in Chandler

Members of John S. McCain III VFW Post 7401in Chandler who are planning the Memorial Day commemoration include, from left Jessica Burke, Jeffrey Varga, Robert Butler, Scott Wetmore and Susan Whitaker. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Veterans say it’s not easy to talk about those who have died.

“For the older combat veterans here, they just remember the good times,” said Robert Butler, the current code committee chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7401 in Chandler. “That is the only way I can see someone being able to speak of someone they lost.”

The VFW post is teaming up with the Chandler Elks Lodge #2429 and American Legion posts 23 and 91 to pay tribute to members of the military who have died.

They plan to place a flag on all the graves of more than 3,000 veterans at Valley of the Sun Mortuary & Cemetery starting at 10 a.m., May 28. On the morning of Memorial Day, there will be a service to remember all of the nation’s fallen service members.

“You see a lot of memorial services, maybe on TV or at a distance, but nothing is more emotional than actually being there to see this, it’s absolutely incredible,” said Jeffrey Varga, a past commander of Legion Post 35.

The ceremony can be so moving, organizers sometimes have a hard time encouraging veterans to attend.

“We have a difficult time … getting recipients to come on board,” Varga said. “It’s trying to talk them into coming in and being honored for what they do and the sacrifices they made. It’s difficult.”

It’s also difficult to remember veterans who didn’t die in combat, but that combat may have played a role in their death.

“I wasn’t in combat during my time in the Army,” said Jessica Burke, who is the general manager at Valley of the Sun Mortuary & Cemetery. “But the bulk of the people that I lost was from suicide.”

Burke said there are a high number of veterans buried at Valley of the Sun because it was a destination cemetery for many years.

There is a specific area set aside just for veterans and their families. However, that area is nearly out of space so no new veterans can be buried there. Burke said the space that remains will go to families of those already there.

Today, most veterans are buried at Cave Creek National Memorial Cemetery in Cave Creek.

Burke said she still gets requests for veterans’ internments at Valley of the Sun, because families like the grass and the Cave Creek cemetery has desert landscaping.

Butler, from the VFW post, said Ace Hardware has donated thousands of flags and they will have enough flags for every veteran’s grave. Burke said they plan to rely on 50 volunteers to place flags on the graves both days, so they may need more than 6,000 flags to put two next to each headstone.

A group of veterans and their supporters were asked what does Memorial Day holiday mean to them.

“It’s not just a day off,” said Susan Whitaker, who is with the Elks Lodge. “There is a reason why you may have the 29th off.”

So they say during the three-day weekend and any getaways you’re planning, take a moment to remember the nation’s fallen.

“You should take the time,” Whitaker said.

If you go

Memorial Day Service

When: 9 a.m., May 29

Where: 10940 E. Chandler Heights Road

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