Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 14, 2008

Earth to earth

On a bright, crisp late-October morning, World War II veterans, their families, friends and community members gathered at Kansas State University. A white tent and chairs had been set up just north of McCain Auditorium facing Anderson Hall. The brilliant autumn golds, oranges and reds served as a blazing backdrop.

We had gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking of K-State's World War II memorial to honor K-Staters who served in the war. I was looking forward to the ceremony because I know quite a few local veterans and I was hoping to see them there. Several uncles in husband Art's and my families served overseas during the war and our parents served on the home front, causing that era to hold a particular fascination for me.

Army and Air Force cadets huddled at the back of the tent and talked quietly among themselves, but when old veterans arrived, the cadets snapped to attention to greet them. A bagpiper practiced in the background and people milled about.

Once the ceremony began, silence fell over the crowd. Dignitaries from Fort Riley and K-State and the veterans themselves discussed the work involved in planning the memorial, which included selecting a site, getting funding and tracking down veterans.

Remarks about the veterans' sacrifices and our nation's gratitude and respect for them moved the crowd. But it was the gathering of sacred soils that was the highlight of the ceremony.

Seven silver canisters from seven different military cemeteries lined the table at the front of the tent. They contained soil from Arlington National Cemetery, Leavenworth National Cemetery at Fort Leavenworth, Fort Scott National Cemetery at Fort Scott, the Veterans Cemetery at Fort Dodge, the Veterans Cemetery in WaKeeney, the Veterans Cemetery in Winfield and the Kansas Veterans Cemetery at Fort Riley.

One by one, cadets carefully carried the canisters to a wooden box and poured their contents into it.

Then nearly 30 additional people added soil they had brought - soil that told more personal stories.

D. Erich Schwartz, the interim pastor for the First Presbyterian Church in Riley and the Fairview Presbyterian Church near Riley County High School, brought earth from cemeteries at Fairview, Riley, Leonardville, Bala, Grandview and the United Methodist Church of Leonardville as well as from the farms and home gardens of First Presbyterian and Fairview church members.

John Lindholm, husband Art's former boss who served in the same bomb group as Art's Uncle Pete, brought soil from the farm where he grew up in eastern Kingman County and the Vinita Cemetery, where his parents, grandparents and other relatives are buried. He did so to honor his brother Ernest Alfred, brother-in-law Bob Hurd, cousin Wayne Turner and himself. John's brother Leonard was also at the ceremony and placed soil in the box from the same cemetery. John, Ernest Alfred and Wayne were in the Army Air Force and Leonard and Bob were Navy Seabees.

Once the offerings were completed, Army and Air Force cadets carried the box to the spot where the foundation of the memorial will be laid and poured its contents onto the ground.

I have been to groundbreaking ceremonies before, but never to one where there were no shovels or spades to turn over the earth. Of course, none were needed, for the ground had already been turned at many distant places to bring it here.

Now, when I pass the site across from the wide lawn in front of Anderson Hall, I think about those who sacrificed for our country and how the soil from their final resting places is now mingled with the soil at K-State. In an agricultural area such as Kansas and particularly on the grounds of a school whose history is so connected with the soil, it somehow seems very fitting.

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