Public Ceremony, Private Moments: Memorial Day, Fernley Vets' Cemetery

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FERNLEY, NV - It's Memorial Day. Cars line the road into Northern Nevada's Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.

The crowds seem to grow each year. They come for the ceremony, to hear prayers and speeches, watch the ritual..

Many if not most have worn their country's uniform. On this day, their civilian attire reflects past generations of service, past conflicts, personal histories entwined with their nation's own, connections sometimes decades old still strong.

A few wear the most personal of losses.

Among them a woman from Lovelock, a gold star mother, watching and listening. On the back of Maria Ward's shirt, her son's image.

The ceremony ends with the 21 gun salute and taps.

The public pomp and circumstance is over.

Marie Ward joins others out on the green amidst a sea of flags, she has no trouble finding her son.

"I come here every week," she says. "We do a lot of trips to Reno. We're in Lovelock and every time we go by we stop. It's not just for Memorial Day."

Sean "Wardo" Ward, a Navy rescue swimmer was killed during a night training mission just before his 21st birthday, just before deployment to Afghanistan.

The high school athlete who grew up in Lovelock was three years into his enlistment and about to sign up for six more.

His loss was felt by most of the town that knew him. Of course, there is no loss deeper than a mother's.

"He's my heart," she says. "I have a tattoo that says it all."

She pulls back a sleeve and reads the inscription. 'My heart, my soul, my hero, my son."

A short distance away, another family gathers around the grave of a World War II veteran, placing roses gathered at home, roses he planted.

"He was a wonderful man, a wonderful father," says his wife Baudine.
Jack Stephenson survived action in the European theatre, came home, didn't talk much about his service, raised a family, lived a long life, dying two years ago.

"He was in a lot of pain before he died so we kind of felt like it was a blessing, that it was time for him to go but it bothers me now more than it did then."

Two men, different generations, like the thousands of others resting here, they heard the call and answered.

For each marker, each flag, each name on the wall, a soldier, sailor, marine, airman, coast guardsman.

Each left grieving family and friends, Each left a legacy of service and sacrifice. Each remembered today.