EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 25, 2008

Thoughts of special Haverhill people on Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day weekend, I find my thoughts and memories have taken me back to some old relationships and people I knew who once wore the uniforms of the military, but passed on after serving their country.

That is what Memorial Day has come to mean to me, even though it is supposed to be in recognition of those who did not survive their military service.

This year, though, it took an odd turn.

I was near Children of Israel Cemetery, down there on Middle Road, a few days ago, so I went in to pay respects to a couple of guys who were in the old Army Air Corps, as I was.

One was Wendy Coltin, with whom I worked at the Gazette for many years. The other was Harry Fleet who, like me, was in some of Harold Livingston's books. Well, our names were.

In any event, I followed a Jewish custom and put a little rock on the gravestones of each of them. As Wendy once told me, the rocks don't fade like flowers do, and they are a lasting reminder that the deceased is not forgotten.

However, as I stopped at Harry's grave, I saw something unusual. Up to that point, I had not seen a rock any bigger than a baseball on a gravestone.

But just a few feet from Harry's grave there was a monument standing alone, not in a row of several as in most cases.

What was also unusual was that this odd monument had only two rocks on it, but they were the biggest ones I had ever seen on a headstone in any cemetery. I couldn't even move them without special effort, they were so heavy.

I noted that this was the grave of Mitchell Sandler, and the last name seemed familiar, connected with an auto parts store in Bradford for several years.

Why, I wondered, would Mitchell Sandler have the biggest memorial stones I have ever seen in a Jewish cemetery? Certainly, the biggest I have ever seen in the Children of Israel Cemetery.

So I started asking people I know in the Jewish community and no one had an answer. I finally called Arnold Pevna, who heads the group in charge of the cemetery, and he knew Mitchell, but he couldn't explain the big rocks. He said Mitchell kept pretty much to himself, was a quiet person, well respected and a good businessman. But no one had any explanation of why those stones were there, or who might have put them there.

It is a nice thing, I think, on this Memorial Day holiday, to realize that people are remembered in various ways. I noted that Wendy, Harry and Arnold were among the many in that cemetery who had flags at their graves, and it is a good thing that there are people who try to give respect and honor to those who deserve it.

I am grateful to those who place the flags at the graves of veterans in all our cemeteries. Even at the far end of St. James Cemetery, where my parents and other relatives are buried, the small flags are placed to show they and their military service are not forgotten.

Wendy and Harry were in World War II, Mitchell was in Korea, and it was to recognize and honor such service that Memorial Day was created after the Civil War. It was created to remember those killed in that terrible war, but it has been extended to all wars and now, more and more, to people who had no military service but are missed by those who knew them.

So, this is a time to think about those who have passed on. While I think of my own family, I will wonder, briefly, why Mitchell Sandler was singled out for special treatment at Children of Israel. Now it brings him more special recognition on a Memorial Day weekend.

Barney Gallagher has covered Haverhill since 1936 as a reporter, editor and columnist.