It’s not well known that women play an essential role in rendering honors during veteran honor services at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. In fact, it’s not a requirement to be male or to be a veteran to volunteer time at the cemetery.
Clifford Lauderdale, member of Shorewood Glen Veterans group, has a mission to bring to light the services of these special women, and he did so at the October meeting of his group.
Lauderdale, who volunteers each Monday as a flag folder and presenter at the cemetery, organized a recognition ceremony for the women volunteers last week.
“The people I ask at Abraham Lincoln didn’t know we had ladies out there,” Lauderdale told a packed house during the veterans’ meeting. “The women are out there in the elements just like we are.”
Seven women volunteers attended the meeting to share what they do and give insight from behind the scenes.
“There are volunteer opportunities for women, for nonveterans and especially [veterans’] spouses,” said Cecilia Seabrook, flag folder and spokesperson for the women.
Seabrook has volunteered at the cemetery in many capacities for over 11 years. Her father, brothers and husband were all veterans. She was on the receiving end of the American flag when her husband died two years ago.
“We have been the women accepting the flag, it’s the lowest, rock-bottom moment,” she said. “That flag and what it stands for is my most precious thing.
“We really make a difference in people’s lives. We are with people in their most desolate moments. We have an extremely special job.”
Arlene Kenny is one of just a few women at the cemetery who fires a rifle during services. She had never touched a rifle before, but has learned to take apart, clean and reassemble her rifle.
Julie Kreuz has been playing the bugle since she was 10 years old. Many members of her family have served in the military, so after her children were grown, she began volunteering her talents and playing taps at the services.
“It’s hard when you see a family coming through, it just happened for them,” Kreuz said. “Their emotions are so raw, but you just have to do this for them.”
Even women who work in the offices and PIC (public information), the first people families encounter before a memorial service, find their work emotionally rewarding.
Sue Van Dyke is a PIC volunteer, helping people find gravesites of their loved ones, directing cars for services and make sure people get to the correct pavilion. Sometimes their job is just to listen.
“A man buried his son, killed in Afghanistan, two hours earlier. I sat and listened to him and cried with him,” Van Dyke said. “I like to think I helped him in some way.”
Prior to the afternoon recognition ceremony, several of the women had volunteered at 14 honor services that same day.
“What you do is special, I didn’t realize what went on behind the scenes,” Shorewood Mayor Richard Chapman said.
Chapman, a Vietnam veteran, was presented with a folded American flag.
Holding back tears, he added “Being a veteran and knowing a lot of vets, I understand.”