By Chadwick Medel
The Gospel of John describes the service of those who have joined the armed services: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This sacrifice for love of country has echoed throughout the history of the United States of America, and this service has laid the foundation for the prosperity and freedom Americans enjoy today.
Toward the north end of the Presidio of San Francisco resides the San Francisco National Cemetery. Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, thousands of commuters travel by this cemetery within which 32,168 servicemen reside. The combat veterans interred at the cemetery are included from many major wars, from the Civil War to the Iraq War. Among these servicemen are 36 Medal of Honor recipients, ranging from the Indian to Vietnam wars as well as over 450 Buffalo Soldiers, African American soldiers who served in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1884, it was established as a national cemetery and administered by the United States Army. The management was then transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration through the legislation of the National Cemeteries Act of 1973.
Each year, the cemetery receives 100,000 visitors who honor their loved ones. Kathleen McCall, Director of San Francisco National Cemetery, describes her interactions with those who visit: “I’m touched every time I speak with a veteran or family member attending a service or visiting a grave. It provides a glimpse into a life lived beyond the name and inscription on a headstone. It also demonstrates that national cemeteries not only memorialize those who have died, but allow families and others to remember and honor loved ones, even generations from now.”
Each May, a Memorial Day observance ceremony is hosted and sponsored by the City and County of San Francisco, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, and the National Cemetery Administration. During the Saturday preceding Memorial Day, the cemetery prepares for the ceremony with scouts and other volunteers that place a U.S. flag on every gravesite. This year’s past event had more than 1,600 veterans, families, and visitors in attendance to commemorate their service.
Aside from the Memorial Day ceremony, the San Francisco National Cemetery partners with Civil Air Patrol and other organizations for the Wreaths Across America event in December. This event is open to the public for placement of donated wreaths at the gravesites of service members to honor them during the holiday season.
“On a larger scale, these national shrines remind us that freedom is not free,” Director McCall adds. “Many have made the ultimate sacrifice. Remembering their sacrifice reminds us to be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and hopefully encourages us to be better citizens.”
These sacrifices serve as the foundation to defy the darkness that threatens the safety and blessings that America experiences. At times, there appear to be many incomprehensible evils that oppress hope, yet every day, there are men and women who lay their lives on the line with an equally incomprehensible act of love. The San Francisco National Cemetery pays respect to our Armed Forces while inspiring gratitude for freedom.