Honoring military deceased, Jacksonville Ladies make ‘Last Tribute’

Honoring military deceased, Jacksonville Ladies make ‘Last Tribute’
Front: Ann Herndon, Jodie Raymond, Jacksonvlile Ladies president Veronica Potter, Gail Williams; back: Anita Stoner, Kathy Cayton, Mary Ann Brown, Christine Monroe

For the past eight-and-a-half years, every interment at the Jacksonville National Cemetery has had something in common.

Shortly after the cemetery was dedicated in fall of 2008, veterans have been accompanied to their final resting place by at least one member of the Jacksonville Ladies.

Founded primarily by members of the Navy Wives Club in November 2008, the 30 Jacksonville Ladies began their mission to ensure that no veteran would be buried alone. Distinctive in navy blue suits, a patriotic scarf or a flag pin, they were present at the first interments January 7, 2009.

Since then, 88-year-old Jodie Harkins Raymond, one of the founders, drives from her East Arlington home twice a month to pay a silent and last tribute on behalf of the nation to the former military men and women who are laid to rest at the cemetery located north of the Jacksonville International Airport.

Her devotion to the mission is personal.

Raymond’s father was drafted in November 1943, leaving behind a family of five, including Raymond, the oldest at 15, and her 8-week-old brother.

“He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and died January 6, 1945 of the wounds. He was buried at Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Holland,” she recalled. “A Dutch family found his grave and took care of it until we could bring him home. I am paying back the kindness that Dutch family paid to my dad.” 

Raymond’s husband, three brothers and two nephews also served in the military, a common reason some of the other Jacksonville Ladies volunteer.

Margie Miller, an Avondale resident, has been volunteering for the past four years, after moving 17 times in 26-plus years as an Army wife. Her father, father-in-law, one brother and two brothers-in-law all served, and two of her three sons are currently on active duty.

Margie Miller

Margie Miller

“I have always volunteered in the community wherever we lived, and when we moved back to Jacksonville [in 2010] I wanted to do something where I could give back to our veterans and their families,” said Miller.

Every service is poignant for Miller, who said the same honors are rendered to each veteran, whether they were a private or seaman or a four-star general or admiral. Each ceremony has the same tradition, dignity and respect performed by the honor guard.

“One special moment occurred several years ago when an elderly World War II veteran was buried with no family present. His only surviving family member was a brother who lived in New England but was too ill to travel,” Miller shared. “He had been distressed at the prospect of his brother being buried alone. He subsequently received the burial information packet with a card from the Jacksonville Ladies. We later received an inspiring letter from him expressing his appreciation and gratitude for our being present at his brother’s funeral.” 

Although the Ladies, of which there are currently 23, are required to volunteer one day per month, most do more. The group also participates in Wreathes Across America, as well as the Missing in America Project (MIAP), which locates, identifies, and inters the unclaimed cremains of veterans.

Of the 147 National Cemeteries, only four have this program. “It is a privilege that we have it here in Jacksonville,” said Miller. “If you are looking for a way to serve our community and give back to veterans and their families, being a Jacksonville Lady is a meaningful way to do so.”

Raymond also encourages others to join. “When I come home from a day at the cemetery, I am so grateful to have my family,” she said. “I only hope I have helped someone get through their bad days. The feeling in your heart can’t be explained.”

For information about the Jacksonville Ladies, visit www.jacksonvilleladies.org.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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