Students Honor Veterans at National Cemetery

Students Honor Veterans at National Cemetery
Posted on 11/17/2022

I’m Short on Change, Grandpa. How About a Coke?

Each year since 2003, Tahoma students have taken on the responsibility of honoring the over 63,000 gravesites located at Tahoma National Cemetery to commemorate Veterans Day and Memorial Day. This year, students from Maple View Middle School and Tahoma High School placed small United States flags at each of the grave markers. 

Flags at Tahoma National Cemetery

It is actually quite unique that we have a national cemetery in our local community, since there are only 155 national cemeteries across the United States, located in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Additionally, a Veteran's spouse, widow/widower, and in certain cases, their children, are also eligible to be buried in a national cemetery. 

View from Tahoma National Cemetery

The privilege of hosting the final resting place for some of our nation’s most honorable citizens comes with quite a responsibility. For Maple View Middle School student Aidan Cunningham, that responsibility is personal.

Aidan’s grandfather, Edward Patrick Gowan, is a Marine Corps Veteran who passed away 12 years ago before Aidan had the chance to meet him. But Aidan gets the chance to visit his grandfather all the time—Edward Patrick Gowan is buried at Tahoma National Cemetery. When Aidan was invited to be part of his school’s Veterans Day project, he knew he couldn’t pass up the chance to honor fallen heroes like his grandfather.

Students placing flags at Tahoma National Cemetery

“My entire family has been in the military,” Aidan said. “So on days like Veterans Day, we have been raised to honor and respect those that have chosen to sacrifice their lives for their country. Just like when my family goes to visit my grandfather, I know there are other families there with loved ones they’ve lost.”

Aidan and his family visit Gowan’s headstone every year and place a penny on it to honor their visit. According to tradition, a penny on the headstone means you visited, a nickel signifies having trained at boot camp together, a dime is left for someone you served with, and a quarter means you were there when the Veteran died. 

As Aidan came across his grandfather’s headstone during this year’s Veterans Day flag-planting project, he didn’t have a penny on him. So instead, Aidan decided to leave behind his grandfather’s favorite drink: a can of Coca-Cola. 

Aidan at his grandfather's grave

“I love that I got to do something on my own,” Aidan said. “And I love that I got to see others outside of my family honoring our Veterans.”

Social Studies Coordinator Kristin Conklin and Superintendent Mike Hanson both have loved ones buried in Tahoma National Cemetery. Conklin’s mother, Linda Fletcher, is laid to rest at the cemetery, as well as Hanson’s father-in-law, Dennis Arthur King, Sr.

Kristin Conklin at her mother's headstone: Linda FletcherHanson and Conklin pose at Hanson's father-in-law's headstone: Dennis Arthur King, Sr.

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