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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sleep Baby, Sleep

by Amy Herting

The words reach out through the years to touch the heart of every parent in any age. The grave is weathered, ornate and stands out in stark contrast to the precise military markers that surround it. It catches my eye and I am compelled to pull over and take a look. Marjorie Graves sleeps forever in the company of soldiers at Ft. Logan National Cemetery. She lived from 1892-1894, the daughter of William S. and Katherine Graves. On her left lies her brother in a grave simply marked “Infant 1891”. The loss is so enormous that I can feel the echo of grief calling across a century. Not able to think of him as “Infant”, I decide to call him Billy—in honor of his father while also remembering mine.

I have come on this crisp fall day to visit my dad, Robert J. Cooper, who has been resting at Ft. Logan since July of 2005. He died a peaceful, premature death in his sleep at 63. As I drive past Marjorie and the endless white rows of heroes, I’m thankful that Dad is joined with them in the still beauty of this place. His military service had a profound effect upon his life and—as seems fitting—his death. After a raucous youth, my father found purpose in the special brotherhood of the US Marine Corps. At 17, he was introduced to an exciting new life that was worlds away from the concrete existence of his Chicago upbringing. He served as a guard at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was a Marine escort for John Glenn’s 1962 Homecoming Parade and stood watch at the fence of Guantanamo Bay on the brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He went to Vietnam in the early days of that conflict and was wounded in the line of duty—all before the age of 25. He received a medal for that service but never felt it was necessary for “just doing his job.” He eventually left the Corps, started a career and fell in love. He led a full life but never lost the pride of being a Marine. My childhood was filled with Chesty Puller, “The D.I.”, and the amazing feats of the brave Devil Dogs who are always the first to arrive on the field of battle. At first it seemed a shame that his only child was a girl, but he loved me with the fierce intensity that was his nature.

Fathers and daughters hold a special bond. I wonder about William S. Graves and his Marjorie. Did he cherish her all the more for having lost his son the year before? Did they delight in her first wobbly steps on the frontier military outpost that was Colorado? What claimed the life of little Marjorie, beloved baby eternally sleeping? I think of the faces of my own two daughters and the blue eyes of my precious baby boy. I remember my dad and how I still miss him every day. I drive away from Marjorie and Billy, but I cannot forget them. They haunt my dreams, and I must try to find out who they were. Maybe I can also find a salve for my grief in the process. 

I learn that Major General William Sidney Graves had quite a distinguished career in the US Army. Starting out as a teacher, he later decided to attend West Point Academy in 1884. Recognized for his leadership potential, he was posted to Ft. Logan in 1891 where he met his wife, Katherine Boyd, and had four children. He served in many capacities throughout his career, always steadily rising in rank. He was promoted to Captain of Infantry in 1899 and was cited for gallantry fighting insurgents in the Philippine Island battle of Caloocan in 1901. He helped with relief efforts after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Later on he would become secretary of the General Staff in Washington as well as Assistant Chief of Staff of the Army. At the onset of war, he was chosen by President Woodrow Wilson for a covert European mission that would pave the way for our involvement in World War I. By then, Brigadier General Graves became Major General Graves as he took over the command of the 8th Infantry Division in 1917. President Wilson, under pressure from the Allies, decided to send troops to Russia in order to open up an “Eastern Front” that would serve to divert the Germans from the main front in Europe. He sent Major General Graves to Siberia to guard the Trans-Siberian Railway and serve US interests with all the different factions there. It was a difficult post requiring diplomatic skills and restraint. Later on he would write a book about his experiences and concerns about the mission there called America’s Siberian Adventure 1918-1920. He would retire from his final post as commander of the Panama Canal Zone in 1928. He died in 1940 at 74. Katherine would join him at Arlington National Cemetery in 1957. He died on the eve of our entrance into World War II while my Dad would be born at its fiery beginning in 1941. Two men who served their country in very different times, bonded together through their valor. So much is owed to all those brave souls in a thousand Arlingtons and Ft. Logans, who laid down their lives or lived to tell the tales as old veterans. All the William S. Graves and Robert J. Coopers down through the centuries of America’s bold experiment will live on through their bravery and service—we must never forget them.

There is no mention in any of the biographies on William S. Graves of his lost children. I know that death was very common then—especially on the Colorado frontier of the 1890’s. His obituary listed his survivors as his wife and two children, a daughter,r Dorothy Orton (wife of Colonel William R. Orton) and a son, Sidney C. Graves. I find a picture of his grave at Arlington and wonder about his children who lived. What did they grow up to become? How many grandchildren did they give him? Did they hear stories of their brother and sister still at Ft. Logan?  I know that what happened to Marjorie has probably been lost forever in the mists of time. She and Billy would have been in the original Ft. Logan cemetery and moved to their present location years ago. What I do know as sure as anything, is the love of her parents found in the simple plea to “Sleep Baby, Sleep”. It’s enough for me to share that timeless love with my own children and also recognize it in the inscription added by my mom to dad’s headstone: “My Life, My Love”. We are all linked together in the human experience by that love that transcends death and in a way, conquers it. I bring flowers to Marjorie and Billy every time now when I visit dad. I look down the long, clean rows of graves and am filled with admiration for them. For all of us who are their families, for America. I leave a single pink rose at the grave of my father and say “Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are.”

Amy Herting is a busy mom of three from Colorado who loves to write stories, copywriting, and show scripts in her spare time. When not chasing kids around and writing, she also sings/performs in a ladies barbershop chorus of 150 and a quartet called Déjà vu.

1 comment:

  1. Amy -- I am a great grand-daughter of William S. Graves. His daughter Dorothy was my wonderful grandmother. She married Wiiliam R. Orton as you mentioned and they had four children -- William, Katherine, Barbara and George. Katherine was my mother. All four are now deceased. Sidney did not have children so William S. Graves had four grandchildren who he adored. Thank you for visiting the cemetery where they are buried and thinking of them. Most of the family lives far from Colorado.