From the archive: Solemn rememberances on Memorial Day

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

Reycita Bird leans against her husband's gravestone Monday at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Bird has visited the gravesite of her late husband, Reyes Pajarito Ray Bird, a World War II veteran, every Memorial Day since his death in 1960. (File photo, Natalie Guillén/The New Mexican)

I’m out of town visiting family on this Memorial Day holiday weekend but wanted to repost an article I wrote last year on Memorial Day even before I decided to rejoin the news department at The New Mexican. (Article pasted in its entirety into this blog post below)

Reposting this not only allows me to repost that wonderful picture taken by Natalie Guillen, but also gave me a good excuse to think about what an honor it was to spend a day at the National Cemetery last year with so many people so gracious with sharing their stories.

Remember, every one of those headstones has a story.

Here is the story published on May 31, 2010, in The New Mexican:

Solemn remembrances away from the crowds

By Geoff Grammer/The New Mexican

While VFW Post 2951 was posting the service flags, Joe and Helen Quintana were a few hundred yards away, sitting in the grass with their 4-year-old son, Jerry.

While Santa Fe Mayor David Coss read a proclamation, 86-year-old Reycita Bird sat in the distance visiting with her husband, Ray Bird, and brother, Ben Quintana.

Shortly after the Kirtland Air Force Base Honor Guard retired the colors, Sister Anthony and Sister Magdalena sifted through the departing crowd searching for Lucy K. and Tom Bushnell, the parents of a close friend.

While the hour-long Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, full of speeches and elegant military ceremonies, was important to them all, it wasn’t why they were there.

Roland Jerry Quintana
January 31, 1955  — November 21, 1959

In the summer of 1959, Joe Quintana, a U.S. Navy veteran from Los Alamos, attended a funeral at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

It was hot.

“I took my coat off and slammed it down in the truck,” recalls Joe, now 80. “I said, ‘Damn, it’s hot.’ Right behind me, I didn’t even realize it, but Jerry, he was 3 or 4 at the time, walked up behind me and took off his coat and tie and did the same thing — slammed his coat and tie down in the truck: ‘Damn, it’s hot.’

“He was always mimicking me. … He was my oldest son. So full of energy.”

Monday was the 51st consecutive Memorial Day that Joe and Helen spent at Jerry’s graveside. He was 4 years old when he “went in for dental work one day and there were complications and he never came back,” according to his father.

The gravestones at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, and Memorial Day itself, are to honor the veterans who fought for this country. But burial at the cemetery, often overlooked, extends to spouses and children of the veterans.

“We’ve been here every year on this day to visit him,” Helen, also 80, said of her son. “It’s important to us.”

Some of those years have included family members walking down toward the grandstand where annual ceremonies take place, listening to music and speeches.

Many, like Monday, were more about time away from the crowds, alone with Jerry.

Reyes Pajarito Ray Bird
December 19, 1920 — September 27, 1960
* * *
Ben Quintana
July 12, 1920 — November 9, 1944

Curled up on a blanket, leaning up against the gravestone of her husband, Ray Bird, 86-year-old Reycita Bird of Cochiti Pueblo listened.

She prayed.

She cried.

She remembered.

“I still talk with him every time I come here,” Reycita Bird said of her husband, who served in World War II. “Every year we come out here (on Memorial Day). It helps.”

Reycita and Ray, from Kewa Pueblo, formerly called Santo Domingo, met as high-school students at Santa Fe Indian School. Ray Bird never graduated. Instead, like most of his male classmates, he left before his schooling was completed to fight in World War II.

“He was in the Navy and spent time, I know, in Latai Island,” Reycita Bird said.

Ray Bird went on to become a carpenter, building homes in the Santa Fe area and coaching baseball and boxing.

Reycita Bird’s brother, Ben Quintana, didn’t have the same opportunity.

No more than 20 yards away from her husband’s grave is the gravestone of her older brother, who died in combat in World War II, a private first class in the U.S. Army. Reycita Bird also spends time with him every Memorial Day.

Under the guidance of SFIS instructor Dorothy Dunn, Ben Quintana became a highly successful artist before his death at the age of 24.

“I definitely still talk with them both when I’m here,” Reycita Bird said. “I still pray for them.”

Tom Gene Bushnell
April 24, 1911 — May 21, 1996
* * *
Lucy K. Bushnell
October 7, 1905 — May 12, 1987

Sister Cecilia Bushnell, a Santa Fe High School graduate, has fond memories of the time she spent at a cabin her father built near the Pecos Wilderness.

The tranquil wilderness setting of that cabin, where Tom Bushnell, the son of a Clayton cattle rancher, taught his daughter about life, a love for the outdoors and “a lot about God,” is a far cry from the Texas Panhandle convent Sister Cecilia is now calling home as a member of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, a religious “Community of Franciscan and Charismatic Sisters” near Amarillo, Texas, according to its website.

Sister Cecilia couldn’t make it to the Santa Fe National Cemetery to visit the her parents’ grave on Monday, but that didn’t stop her friends from making the trip for her.

Sister Anthony, who also grew up as a military brat, and Sister Magdalena, both living in Albuquerque, drove to Santa Fe on Monday to watch the ceremony and, thanks to the grave locator service at the cemetery, visited the Bushnell gravestone.

“Growing up in a military family, I know how important this day is,” Sister Anthony said. “If we don’t remember the fallen, and what they did for the country, then it’s almost as though what they did doesn’t even count. We decided (Monday morning) we wanted to drive up and see what was going on here, and we’re so glad we did. This is so beautiful.”

The trip also offered an opportunity for Sister Cecilia to feel closer to her father.

“As an only child, I don’t have family that can visit (the cemetery), so it’s so special that my new sisters are able to be there.

“And while I’m certainly not a person who supports war, that doesn’t mean you ever stop remembering and honoring all these men and women who have done so much for this country. I’m so very grateful for everything they have done.”


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