Since today is Memorial Day and many people will visit a cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of loved ones, I thought I would share this story I included at the end of my book "Archie Word: Voice of Thunder, Heart of Tears." Word, who served in World War I, is buried in Willamette National Cemetery on the lower slope of Mount Scott, overlooking the city of Portland, Oregon. Here's what I wrote.
On April 21, 1990, on what would have been Archie's 89th birthday, I visited the grave of Archie Word along with Tom and Esther Burgess and Dr. Wayne Shaw of Lincoln Christian Seminary. As we stood beside the grave in the warmth of the sunlight, I noticed a woman sitting on the emerald green grass at a nearby grave, her legs drawn up and her face cupped in her hands. When I saw that she was biting her lip and crying, I walked over to her and knelt down beside her. I looked at the grave marker. It read, "JOHN HENRY ______. May 31-40 Aug 8-88." I asked, "Your husband?" She nodded. "Vietnam vet?" "Yes," she answered. "He just came home one day, went into the bedroom, and shot himself. I come up here often and just sit and cry. They say it's supposed to get easier, but it doesn't."
I learned that the woman, Joyce, had no family -- no friends, no church. "No one cares," she said in a dull voice. She continued to cry softly.
"I know I'm a stranger and you don't know me at all," I said. "But has it been a long time since anyone has held your hand?" Again she nodded. "May I?" I asked. She looked up with eyes brimming with tears, the hint of a wan smile on her face. Then I took her hand with both of mine and told her why I was at the cemetery that day. I told her briefly of Archie and the hope the ex-World War I man had found in Jesus Christ. I explained that at the very church where he once preached there were warm and loving people who would be her friend.
When we returned to the car to leave the cemetery, Dr. Shaw leaned over to me and said, "Victor, that was a beautiful thing you just did." As we drove away I looked back over my shoulder at the grave of Archie Word -- and the lonely lady still sitting on the hillside. I swallowed a big lump in my throat and managed to reply, "It's the kind of thing he would have done."