Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.


Thursday, December 31, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL… Point Loma (San Diego), California


San Diego bespeaks a lively military presence, with all sorts of US Navy ships docked in the harbor and naval base facilities fully operational, including the Naval Special Operations Unit where SEAL training is conducted at the Coronado Island Naval Amphibious Base.  About ten miles west of the central hub, tucked away toward the end of the Point Loma peninsula, a national cemetery administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs occupies about seventy-seven acres that formerly constituted the site of an Army coastal artillery station.  

Bisected by Catalina Boulevard, it abuts two sides of this main road that takes tourists to the historic Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma’s Lighthouse, a national park’s attractions a mile away at the end of the peninsula. 

Travelers in cars might not pay attention to the communal treasure through which they pass to reach the tourist attractions… after all, it’s “just” a cemetery.  But if they divert from the beaten track, get out of their confined spaces and look around, they are apt to be enthralled by what they see.  

Whether overlooking a sweeping panorama of animated city and aquatic activities on the San Diego Bay side of the grounds or the infinite waters of the Pacific Ocean on the other side, an essence of peace pervades the atmosphere.  

People have referred to the cemetery’s ambience using words like “solitude,” “tranquility,” “solace,” and “beauty.”  “Breathtaking” is a commonly expressed descriptive adjective.  One visitor noted that words can’t describe the depth of the beautiful views, dubbing the environment here absolutely unbelievable.  A local resident considers it the best and most amazing cemetery she has ever seen, adding that it brings tears to her eyes every time she visits.  Someone felt transformed while there, recognizing a changed perspective and an appreciation for that which individuals sacrificed to keep our country free and the peacekeeper of the world.  Yet another person opined that it is the best location on earth for a final resting place. 

So what is it that instills such riveting admiration among visitors?  Perhaps the ardor can be attributed, yet again, to nature’s splendor that accents man’s strategic intervention.  

There’s something about an expanse of water that summons the soul and frees the spirit.  At this site, the body of water below the spread of elevated terrain bearing bodily remains underscores that sense.  In a burial milieu, one naturally thinks about souls… here, amid a dynamic mural of awe-inspiring marvel, perhaps especially so.  Above the cacophony of distant life, in the heights of this landmark resting place a visitor is apt to feel an ethereal aura magnified by a spiritually uplifting tenor.  One can easily fathom sequestered souls communing with readily accessible heavenly hosts.

“… hear from heaven our sailor's cry, 
     And grant eternal life on high!”
                                                                                          (an alternate verse adapted to the Navy Hymn, author unknown)

Is this state of transfixed reverence due to the gently buffeting ocean breeze or the shimmering sapphire waters of the bay or ocean below?  Are the sweeping views so mesmerizing that one succumbs to endorphin-induced bliss?  

Or might it be the conspicuous white marble crosses on this property that command the attention of rapture?  Could it be the vastness of graves amid the stillness, the sheer numbers of venerated veterans whose lives were cut short in missions of valor?  

Decedents of different eras have been interred here over the course of a century and a half.  They include veterans of the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam battles, the Gulf Wars, and other military operations, along with qualified family members.  Ground burials and columbaria inurnments amount to over 112,000, including twenty-three Medal of Honor recipients.  

The cemetery’s name stems from its location on the grounds of the former Fort Rosecrans.  It became a national cemetery in October of 1934 based on a need for more space due to changes in legislation increasing the number of people who would be eligible for burial in a national cemetery.  

In recent years long walls of columbaria were added to accommodate the cremated remains of thousands of additional World War II veterans.  The extensive lineation of structures replaced old chain-link fencing.  

Additionally, "Columbarium Court" was designed with rows of niche structures lined up in military-style precision.

Visitors to this section overlooking the Point Loma Naval Base can capture views of downtown San Diego and the bay.  

Memorial tablets and grave markers bear an individual’s name, lifespan dates, rank, places served, emblems, and sometimes a few succinctly relevant words.  

A number of monuments and memorials serve as tributes to groups of individuals who died under varying circumstances.  One is specific, such as the seventy-five-foot-tall granite obelisk that recognizes the deaths of sixty-two sailors who died in a boiler explosion aboard the USS Bennington in the San Diego harbor on July 21, 1905.  Others are composites with listings of soldiers from different missions, such as this one dedicated in 1995 to men who died in particular battles while aboard the identified ships.  

A committal service shelter blends into the environment unobtrusively, away from administrative, maintenance, and burial operations as well as the actual gravesite.  
Brief commemorative services are conducted here, highlighted by the customary military honors protocol conducted by military honors or volunteer honor guard teams.

The roofed, open-air pavilion provides seating for the immediate family and friends, accommodating ten to twenty people.  An uncovered paved area affords room for approximately fifty additional guests.  

Cones can be utilized for placement of flowers in the gravel strip alongside the columbarium.  Potted plants are permitted for a short time during holiday periods.  Floral pieces are removed by maintenance crews when they wilt or become unsightly.  Artificial flowers are permitted, but are removed on the last Friday of each month to facilitate maintenance measures.  Flowers or memorabilia directly on top of the columbarium or attached to niche fronts are strictly forbidden.  

A visitor from Houston, Texas summed up his impressions by declaring that this is one of the nicest military cemeteries you’d ever visit, ranking it on a par with Arlington Cemetery.  He encourages people to soak in the beauty and peacefulness while honoring the spirits of the bodily remains reposing here.

A final destination in this five-star cemetery with its clean and well-maintained grounds has been an aspiration of many eligible veterans who are currently alive and well.  Unfortunately, they must find alternative sites because the cemetery has run out of room, having filled the last remaining unclaimed niche spaces in May of 2014.  The columbaria had been the only available option, as most casket burials had been terminated in 1966.  Accommodations nowadays are limited to veterans who already have a niche or burial site because of a spouse already interred there.    

But the fact that this saturated state of affairs signaling maximum capacity has been reached does not affect anyone who merely wants to visit the property.  By adding it to a travel agenda, a new dimension in the military realm may be experienced and appreciated.  Here in a cemetery, history can come alive in a spirit of enlightenment.  In this particular one, a purview of glorious literal and spiritual horizons can be relished, as atop a hilly ridge one peers at the convergence of land and sea, basking in a heavenly haven.  


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