Daughter Finds Final Resting Place for Veteran Father
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2004 Elizabeth Johnston of Longview, Wash., didn't mean any disrespect to her father by keeping his cremated remains on a closet shelf for almost 10 years. She just didn't know what to do with them.
Navy Seaman Moises Rodriguez III of the Washington Naval
Ceremonial Unit presents the American flag to Elizabeth Johnston in honor of
her late father, World War II Navy veteran Calvin M. Woods, whose ashes were
inurned at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 26, almost 10 years after his
death. Looking on is Pam Crespi of DoD's military community and family policy
office, who escorted Johnston during her visit to Washington. Photo by Rudi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But when she came here recently to accept an award for her support for military families, she found the resting place for her father's ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.
Her father, Calvin M. Woods, participated in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach as a chief boatswain's mate. He died on Oct. 23, 1994, shortly before his 81st birthday.
Johnston is the founder of "Mothers of Military Support," a not-for-profit organization that supports deployed service members and their families. MOMS took home a $2,000 in "Newman's Own" recent competition for innovative programs to improve the quality of life in military communities. Newman's Own Inc., the Fisher House Foundation and the Military Times Media Group sponsor the award program.
Johnston said her father told her he didn't want a big fuss made when he died. "He didn't want anything fancy, or people crying over him with sad music playing," she noted. "And for 10 years, I didn't quite know how to take care of him appropriately. I didn't know if I should get on a Navy ship and go out to sea and spread his ashes, or just put him in a vault in a local military cemetery. I just didn't know what to do."
Once she decided to inurn her father's ashes at Arlington, Johnston opted for simple funeral honors, which included a 21-gun salute, the playing of "Taps" and folding and presentation of the American flag performed by a Navy ceremonial unit.
Tears flowed down her reddened cheeks as sailors in their crisp, white uniforms performed the honors. "He's not alone anymore," she said after the inurnment.
She said Woods "would be with the people, besides his family, who were his world a big part of his life and who he was." She said she pictured him "walking with his military family and friends now."
Johnston said the chain of events that led to her father's burial began when Jim Weiskopf of the Fisher House Foundation notified her of the Newman's Own award and asked if she could accept it in person. "I was in shock," she recalled. "He told me the ceremony was going to be at the Pentagon. I got on the Internet to find out where the Pentagon was located, and as I was looking at the map, I saw Arlington National Cemetery. That was the moment that I knew this trip was special."
But the chain of events really started earlier, according to Johnson. "If my son hadn't gone to war, I never would have founded Mothers of Military Support to support the troops," Johnston pointed out. "Had I not founded the organization, I wouldn't have gotten the grant through Newman's Own. Had I not been invited to come to the Pentagon to receive the grant, I wouldn't have known Arlington Cemetery was so close."
When her father died, she said, her children were so young that she consumed her time with them rather than dealing with her emotions about her father. "Going to Washington, D.C., gave final closure," Johnston said.
Johnston noted she doesn't know much about her father's wartime experiences because he didn't speak of them much. He did tell his family that when he hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, bodies were scattered all over the beach and about 55 percent of his unit's members were killed by the time they reached the beach.
"They were running low capacity, high emotion and were still able to break through," Johnston said. "I believe he was shot in the thigh and had a Purple Heart, but I don't know all the medals he had, because talking about what he did during the war was taboo in our house. He was always vague."
Johnson, the former district manager for a cosmetic company, now runs MOMS full time. She said she's happy she was able to give her father the honors he deserved.
"I feel I couldn't have honored him in any better way. It's closure. He's free now," she said. "He never said he wanted to be in Arlington. But he was in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion always involved in veterans affairs, always paid his dues, always wearing his VFW and legion hat and meeting with old buddies."