I woke up Memorial Day to a cool breeze and a bright sun. I had a cup of coffee and headed down to the garage to polish up the motorcycle for the day. The plan was to get dressed and head down to the Golden Gate National Cemetery for a few hours and then to take the rest of the day to ride and… well… think. Both of these are things I do not have the time to enjoy very often.
A little background about the Golden Gate National Cemetery:
- It spans more than 160 acres in San Bruno, CA just outside of San Francisco
- There are nearly 140,000 soldiers and family members with interments here
- It was originally constructed (finished and dedicated) in May of 1942
- Its amazing in size and beauty
Now back to my story. As I was riding towards the gates I was already feeling quite emotional. My whole body was getting warm and I could feel my eyes starting to swell. As I entered the large front gates, the first site inside was a large American flag atop a giant hill. Cascading down the hill were many other flags, some for states, some for other things. The next thing I noticed was the abundance of miniature American flags on poles located next to every single headstone. If you search around, you will find that this is a common way to commemorate the day. My previous research on what to expect when I went to the cemetery lead me to this link where I read the following…
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country and during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
I cruised extremely slowly through the cemetery, emotions jumping wildly from sadness the thankfulness and back as my mind spun through years of images and videos from tv and movies as well as personal memories with those soldiers who are no longer with us. I didn’t make it far before I had to park and start my walk (which end up taking the next 2.5 hours of my day) through the cemetery. I know the pictures do not do this place justice. It is amazingly huge and hard to grasp the number of people in this one cemetery that are buried here.
I had no idea what I was getting into as I took off on foot through the cemetery. The place seemed enormous and while there were tons of people there, no one was near me, giving me complete freedom to think and talk to myself in peace. I wandered through acres and acres of land reading the names aloud of some of the soldiers and cleaning dirt off some headstones of others with a brush I had brought along with me. Some were extremely old and hard to read and were very coarse from years of weather when you touched them with your hands.
When I thought I had reached the end of the lot, where I had intended on turning around and walking back to my motorcycle, I looked up to realize the cemetery continued off on a 90 degree angle and I had barely covered half of it. I really had no idea how large it was or what I was getting myself into that day. I sat there perplexed by the sheer number of headstones I was seeing as well as the vast amount of land this place covered. I feel truly honored and humbled to live in a country where people give their lives to protect others like they do here.
I headed back to my motorcycle and cruised through the larger half before heading to the top of the hill, which was the center point and main viewing point for the entire area. I should have started here because from the top you can see the entire place spanning in all directions. I talked to a couple of older (80 years old) retired soldiers as I walked around. They were eager to share some of their stories with anyone who would listen… not about wars or killing, but just about living life to the fullest and about loving those around you.
After such an emotional few hours I decided to keep my time of reflection going by heading out for a few hours for a nice long motorcycle ride. I cruised for a few miles up the interstate but then veered off the main roads and followed the winding roads for about 75 miles. I cruised through the hills and eucalyptus trees and eventually ended up at Alice’s, a popular biker bar where, contrary to my guessing, it was practically empty. I hung out there for about an hour, grabbed some food, and just talked with some of the locals and staff who were enjoying the sunny holiday. After that, I saddled back up and took off towards the coast.
I was amazed there was no traffic. Considering how beautiful it was out and the fact that the coastal highway is a typical tourist destination, I had it mostly to my self! I was able to stop and snap all kinds of photos along the way because of that fact. Maybe it is just me, but sometimes I head out on adventures like this and think to myself how great it would be if I didn’t have to deal with assholes the entire day, or traffic, or construction. Today was that day. I had the roads to myself, I cruised alone through the woods, I ate at a typically packed biker bar with only the company of the staff, and as I mentioned earlier, spent most of my day in the cemetery with no one within 20 yards or more of me.
This is the first time I have truly paid my respect to the soldiers who protect us on Memorial Day. Typically it is just another day off of work to spend with family and friends with little thought to why. While spending time with loved ones to me is very important, I am glad to have spent the day alone with my thoughts and memories. I hope you appreciate my story. It is just as much for me as it is for you. To my family and friends and to those around the globe protecting us and our freedom, thank you.
Tim: I miss you buddy. Thank you, too.