POMERENE and ST. DAVID — Every Memorial Day, families start arriving at the Pomerene and St. David cemeteries at 6 a.m.
They come with rakes, shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows for cleanup projects and to visit the final resting places of generations of relatives. Flags are placed on the gravesites of veterans. Those who died in service to country are commemorated.
As part of the commemoration, a five-member honor guard from VFW Post 6271 in Benson visited both cemeteries to conduct a 15-gun salute, which was followed by buglers Ernie Bernal and Marcus Tucker playing Taps at each ceremony’s conclusion.
The honor guard started in Pomerene at 8 a.m., then headed to the St. David Cemetery, with its final salute held at Veterans Memorial Park in Benson.
Todd Carling and his son, Ben, traveled from Mesa to Pomerene to help with the cemetery cleanup and visit the gravesite of Korean War veteran Ivan Carling, Todd’s father and Ben’s grandfather.
“Our grandparents and great-grandparents are buried here,” Todd Carling said. “Even though we now live in Mesa, we plan to come to Pomerene for this ceremony every year.”
One of the Pomerene community’s long-standing traditions is to provide residents with breakfast at the cemetery on Memorial Day, where families sit at picnic tables while enjoying bacon and pancakes.
“This was my husband’s favorite event every year,” Gayle Coons said of her husband, William. “His brother, Ken Coons, was killed in Vietnam, so Memorial Day is very important to our family.”
Mark Fenn, whose great-grandparents, grandparents and parents are buried in Pomerene, said the cemetery was originally a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cemetery, but is now part of the Pomerene Cemetery Association.
“There’s a lot of history here for me,” Fenn said. “My grandparents came here in 1912 and my Aunt Louise (Fenn Larson) was a well-known historian in this area.”
Standing at a family gravesite and surrounded by his children, Van Whatcott, who drove from Sahuarita for the Memorial Day ceremony, shared some of his family’s history.
“My grandparents moved to Pomerene from Utah in 1971,” he said. “My father, aunts and uncles are buried here. So, we came here from Sahuarita to help with the cleanup and remember our relatives who are buried here.”
Meanwhile, just down the road from Pomerene, activities were winding down at the St. David cemetery where the annual cleanup and honor guard salute was completed around 9 a.m.
Patriot Guard Rider Richard Darnell rode his motorcycle from Utah to visit the gravesite of his father, Clarence Richard Darnell.
“I make the 750-mile ride from Utah every year for this remembrance,” he said. “My father had an interesting history. He was born in Tucson in 1929 and grew up along the San Pedro River in Fairbank back when it was still a railroad town. He attended school in Tombstone and then St. David before enlisting in the United States Air Force. He fought in the Korean War.”
While reflecting on the significance of Memorial Day, Darnell said it’s important for all Americans to remember the sacrifices made by “the brave men and women who gave their lives for this country to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.
“If we lose sight of that, then we lose our country.”
Virgil Judd, one of the St. David Cemetery board members, said about 80 people came to the cemetery to help with the morning cleanup.
“Our cleanup has been happening for decades,” he said. “Everyone got here at 6 a.m. and we always have good-sized crowds for this. On the Saturday before Memorial Day, a group of young men from the LDS Church come here and place American flags on the graves of veterans.
“We have a lot of veterans buried here, and our community is proud of the contributions they have made for our country.”