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Uncle Richard’s Mission: Memorial Day

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Uncle Richard’s Mission :

Memorial Day

by Junior Warren

Richard Branford DeLong, a Stone County, Missouri farmer worked hard all his life trying to raise cattle, hogs, chickens, wool goats and hair goats on the rocky southwest Missouri soil.

Mother Nature never seemed to have any second thoughts about manipulation of weather to do “the exact opposite” of what local farmers needed to survive year after year.

Born January 10, at the beginning of the 20th Century, astrologers would be inclined to classify his life the embodiment of “The Stereotypical Capricorn,” because his struggle to survive on the land seems to have begun almost as soon as e left the womb.

Covered Wagon to Stone County

He entered this life in Versailles, Missouri. By the age of seven, his father Charles “Charley” Hermann DeLong, loaded his wife in a covered wagon and made the trip to southern Stone County. The first homestead was set up in the hills and hollers around Reeds Spring, Missouri.

The mythic Capricorn “curse” (or blessing) of “earth” would ensure that Richard would always be involved in “agriculture” and trying to work the “real estate” – to make a living. As a young man, he and his mother, Martha Lou DeLong would at times sit upon a buckboard and go into the woods. Grandma DeLong had told me as a child, at times, “Richard and I would spend two weeks in the woods cutting down trees for ties to sell to the Union Pacific railroad for a few dollars.”

Richard DeLong had one girlfriend in youth, and the “family story” always remarked, “she ran off and married another man.” He never had another girlfriend, but he worked the land. Somewhere in his youth, he accepted a unique responsibility.

Richard B. DeLong became a grave digger.

Grave Digger

In the days, before the invention and common use of the backhoe, local men and boys would from time to time find it necessary to help out neighbors by digging graves. Yocum Pond Cemetery, in pictures from the era, was simply farm pasture on a hill above Reeds Spring that families used to bury their loved ones. The responsibility for the care and maintenance of the graves of loved ones belonged to the individual families.

Around the 1930s, the DeLong family moved to northern Stone County and homesteaded a piece of land about three miles from Galena, the county seat. Richard farmed the 160 acres that his mother and father owned and he brought 80 acres that joined their land to farm.

Richard’s brother, Willie had a reputation as an outdoors man, who hunted, trapped and fished for a living. His brother, Hobert , also a farmer, had a reputation as a marksman and successful local hunter. And, Richard’s sister, Opal went from being a World War II shipyard welder to being a local farmer.

Richard stayed the course and farmed the family farm. His idea of entertainment started with going to the Ozark Sale Barn on Mondays about once a month. He enjoyed watching wrestling on the small black and white television. And, on some Thursday evenings, he would go to Play Nights at the Coon Ridge Saddle Club Arena to watch local horsemen and horsewomen train for upcoming rodeos and horse shows. Uncle Richard always made time for the meticulous care of the family graves.

Yocum Pond Passion

If we all have a mission in life, then, Richard DeLong took up the banner to make Memorial Day his life’s mission. His campaign was to make sure the family graves were always immaculate and to teach nieces and nephews respect, and protocol to be observed in the cemetery and to pass on the Memorial Day tradition.

Earl DeLong's headstone - When he died in the 1930's, the story told in the family is, Springfield relatives claimed to be unable to pay for his burial in the city or Greene County. They asked relatives in Stone County to bury "Uncle Earl" in Yocum Pond. Photo by Junior Warren

Once or twice a year he would take the “pig trails” of country roads like Bass Hollow to drive the old black 1952 GMC along the back roads to Yocum Pond. At the pole and woven wire gate, he would stop and shovel “fresh dirt” into the pickup bed and then drive out to the family graves. Any grave that had “settled,” meant that it was “sunken in” and required fresh shovels full of topsoil to restore the peaceful appearance of an earthen blanket to the grave.

While he always made the periodic maintenance visits, his personal protocol meant a week before “Memorial Day,” Richard DeLong would be at the cemetery making sure the graves reflected the love and care of the family grave sites

In the years before the invention of weed eaters, Richard DeLong would get on his knees next to a headstone and use his pocket knife to remove weeds from around the stones. Then, whether it was the cylindrical S blade push mower or the gasoline powered push lawn mower, he would mow around each of the tombstones.

When he was done you would have to read the date on the tombstones to know how long the graves had been there. On one trip, with Uncle Richard to the cemetery, we even used dirt to “fill in” some nearby neighbor’s graves because “they have no living kin to look after their graves,” Uncle Richard explained to me.

Sister, Opal M. DeLong Warren had acquired the responsibility for providing “the flowers for the stones” for Memorial Day.

Memorial Day for Richard DeLong was never put flowers on the stones and leave. For Richard DeLong, it was the World Series, the Super Bowl and Christmas Day rolled into one major event.

Cemetery Command

After breakfast, the old GMC pickup, with the worn out shock absorbers, would bounce up and down the gravel county back roads to Yocum Pond. When Richard DeLong was “on scene” at the Yocum Pond Cemetery, he was in charge. All the nieces and nephews knew the rules of Uncle Richard’s Cemetery Command. He had drill the proper protocol into us from the earliest of ages.

Dressed in his new overalls, he would conduct his own final “white glove inspection” of the family graves to make sure they were all ship shape. Any of the nieces or nephews, who ever went with Uncle Richard to the cemetery knew that he didn’t want anyone to find fault or make any negative comments about the appearance of any of the DeLong graves. Like a “First Shirt,” he would make sure by Memorial Day the graves were immaculate in their appearance.

Pass In Review

The morning of Memorial Day, Richard DeLong would rush through his daily livestock chores to be “on scene” at the cemetery as the sun rose over the horizon.

Richard DeLong always loved to “visit” with his neighbors. In the 1960s, Yocum Pond Cemetery families did not “rush” through placing wreaths and flowers on the graves. People would place the flowers and step back and look at the stones. They would step back look at the dates and glance at the stones around the headstone they were looking at. People would converse about their buried family members, recall or ask about the “day of the funeral.” Visitors would try to remember or decide if nearby graves were those of distant relatives or friends.

Memorial Day festivities at Yocum Pond in the 1960s was more like those of air show attendees. People would comment on the colors and styles of the headstones. They would look at the headstones and make comments about any graphics on the stones like a Masonic emblem. People would read the inscriptions on the stones. Some headstones were literally stones with dates carved in them because the families simply could not afford more expensive headstones. Richard DeLong was aware how closely people looked at the individual graves because he did the same thing. Thus, for a visitor to do a “pass in review” of any of the DeLong graves; those graves were expected to show the care and concern of the living for the deceased.

The Library of Congress in overalls

Richard DeLong was “The Library of Congress in overalls,” because of the wealth of information that he had gained through the years of being one of the grave diggers. People who had questions about graves actively sought out Uncle Richard. Richard having been involved in so many of the burials is why family members would look for him at the cemetery

When it came to the details of a grave, the funeral and the burial, Richard DeLong was the “walking, talking graves registration office.” Like a mortician, he could recall details from the days of the funeral and sometimes even the weather of the day. Graves with missing markers, headstones or that had never had a headstone would be a complete mystery to family members who would arrive for Memorial Day from another state. Richard DeLong had an infallible memory on “who was buried in what grave.”

It had not been uncommon in childhood to witness “strangers” and “visitors” from other states who would drive up the gravel driveway to Grandma and Uncle Richard’s house a few days before Memorial Day. Whether the visitors sit out “on the porch” or “sat at the kitchen table,” Richard DeLong would answer their questions about the graves and recount what he had remembered about the burials. Few were the instances, when Uncle Richard didn’t have any information about a grave at Yocum Pond Cemetery

Usually a day or two, before Memorial Day, Uncle Richard would spend a few hours at the cemetery, in case, loved ones from another state showed up to inquire about “forgotten” or “lost graves.” To Richard DeLong there was no reason for an “unknown” grave in Yocum Pond.

Whenever I or Cousin Donna went with Uncle Richard to Yocum Pond, you could seldom walk past a grave that he did not have a story to share about the person or their grave.

The Charles Herman and Martha Lou DeLong family in Stone County had always observed “Decoration Day.” When Earl DeLong died in Springfield, Missouri, the story was that relatives could not afford to bury him, so he was buried in Yocum Pond to be looked after by the DeLongs in Stone County. “Uncle Earl” still sleeps among his Stone County relatives.

May 30 Is Memorial Day – Always

The DeLong family held to the passionate belief of the “Traditional Memorial Day of May 30.”

Memorial Day at Yocum Pond Cemetery always arrived like a ticker tape parade through the streets of New York City. Once family members arrived, Uncle Richard would pass among the stones like a general on a formal inspection tour.

Operational Readiness Inspection

Strategic Air Command’s Operational Readiness Inspection meant the base and personnel had to be ready to support the B-52 Stratofortresses and the KC-135 Stratotankers to ensure the aircraft could carry out the mission. Of course, SAC Intercontinental Ballistic Missle bases had to be sure their ICBMs would reach their targets to pass a SAC ORI. Richard DeLong would have been an excellent inspector.

At the cemetery, on Memorial Day, he would look carefully at the headstones and the graves. No detail went unnoticed. His smile or a nod of his head meant that Uncle Richard was pleased with the floral arrangements.

Once Uncle Richard was pleased with the DeLong graves, he would move on to look at the graves and flowers placed on the headstones of friends. He would spend the entire day walking around the graves on both sides and in the back of the cemetery No detail ever seemed to go unnoticed.

The Traditional Memorial Day Debrief

Upon leaving Yocum Pond, momma and I would always stop at Pop’s Dari Dell in Reeds Spring, Missouri. I’d get a thick, juicy hamburger and momma loved their foot long hot dogs and their thick vanilla malts. Before going home, we would stop at Grandma and Uncle Richard’s. Uncle Richard would of spent the whole day at the cemetery He would have comments about various headstones, graves and the flowers. His observations always made for a detailed situation report of the day’s activities.

The Richard DeLong Cemetery Code Of Conduct

Going to the cemetery with Uncle Richard before Memorial Day was like being the executive officer on the staff of a four star general – everything had to be meticulous and correct. If you weren’t a nervous wreck before going to the cemetery you would be a babbling bundle of nerves afterward.

A lifetime of care and respect for family graves had given Uncle Richard a Code Of Conduct and a sense of protocol that would make a Department of State foreign service career diplomat nervous and a United States Ambassador anxious in Uncle Richard’s company.

  1. Children never ever ran in the cemetery – especially if their last name was DeLong or Warren.
  2. Always watch were you step. Uncle Richard repeated this rule to Cousin Donna and I, so many times through the years, that in 2011 – as a senior citizen myself – I still look down at my feet to watch where I step. To say I am careful, where I step is an understatement. I walk around graves like a nervous private in a minefield.
  3. Proper, respectful conduct in the cemetery was never demanded – it was simply expected Nieces and nephews had been drilled in Uncle Richard’s version of boot camp from an early age, so by our teenage years, we had earned our “stripes” and knew what was expected..

Richard DeLong never served in the military. His draft card showed that he did not pass the physical requirements. But, he had a sense of order, discipline and devotion worthy of a military commander. And, his ability to instill the Memorial Day tradition in his nieces and nephews were equal to those of any professional military historian.

Uncle Richard, the farmer, passed on a legacy of respect, protocol, and admiration for those who have lived before. His passionate devotion to the maintenance of the graves were a testament of respect to the sacrifices of civilians and veterans, who are remembered in the sheen of the flowers on the monuments and the subtle movements of the small American flags waving upon the graves.

Like General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, when the career of earthly campaigns ended – Richard DeLong faded away.

Richard B. DeLong's monument in Yocum Pond

“Farewell”

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2 Responses

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  1. Hey would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    paul smith shoes

    June 1, 2011 at 2:39 AM

    • I use Word Press. Com. I’m happy with the results. Good Luck on your blog.

      Sam

      samwarren55

      June 9, 2011 at 12:17 PM


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