DIXON — James Diffey, a Vietnam Army veteran, kept his wife company on Saturday. Sitting on a lawn chair with a small pot of yellow flowers on the ground, he leaned forward and patted the white headstone with reverence.
During the war he was stationed at Fort Ord, working in the hospital.
“My wife wasn’t in the military. She just had the unfortunate luck of going before me,” Diffey said.
The Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon had about a 100 volunteers placing flags on the graves of veterans. An all-day event which will bring more people out as the day wore on.
Diffey was one of them. He placed her flag close to the white marble.
“When I go, I will have my name carved on the other side of the stone,” he said.
The Vacaville native is looking forward to seeing some of his kids Monday. Two of his children live out-of-state but he hopes that the others will come and visit the cemetery with him.
“I come here two or three times a week,” he said.
The national cemetery expects about 3,000 visitors over Memorial Day weekend, estimated Arlene Salvador, Program Support Assistant for the cemetery.
“People have come as far as Nevada to plant flags,” she said.
The flags are reused each year, the ones that are torn, damaged or faded get replaced with new ones.
“The ground is a little hard, we have been trying to conserve water because of the drought, so this year we asked volunteers to bring a small gardening tool to dig a hole for the flags,” Salvador said.
Cynthia Nunez, Director of the Sacramento National Cemetery, has two of her employees buried in the cemetery. She places flags in remembrance of them.
“It’s sad. But I am glad to do it,” Nunez said.
She noted that despite the small number of people, they are one of the twelfth busiest national cemeteries year-round.
“We get people coming here all the time,” she said.
Vacaville resident Jean Lavender likes to visit her husband as often as possible. She sits in her wheelchair a few feet in front of her husband, Robert’s grave. He passed away six months ago. Her son, a Boy Scout leader put flags on the graves, while she waited for him to finish.
“My son came up, I hadn’t planned to come out here but he invited me and I said ‘yes’,” Lavender said.
“Anytime I can get a ride out here is fine with me,” she said.
She suffers from fractures in her spine and is unable to walk, so she gets around with the use of her wheelchair. Navigating the grass with the help of her son was tricky, but worth the time.
On Monday, the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon will have its ceremony at 9 a.m., with the Travis Air Force Base band providing music. The Memorial Programs Service Director Anita Hansen and California Deputy Secretary for Communications and Legislation J.P. Tremblay will be the speakers.
As soldiers placed flags in the ground, they saluted the person buried and read their name aloud. This was a ritual repeated across the cemetery in soft murmurs. Other people placed flags in silence. It was a day of remembering friends, family and loved ones.
“We are keepers of history. Each tombstone has a little snippet of someone’s life,” Salvador said.
Reach Susan Hiland at 427-6981 or firstname.lastname@example.org.