Call me a bit different, but I find cemeteries to be very interesting places.
Every time I pass one I feel a tug on my sleeve. The community of the dearly departed calls out for me to take a minute, pull in, park, and walk about.
Now before you go off the deep end thinking I have some sort of death wish, please understand my desire to walk among the dead does not include my desire to rest with them.
Far from it.
As Robert Frost so eloquently put it, “I have miles to go before I sleep.”
Cemeteries are quiet places with interesting stories all around if you just surrender to that tug on your sleeve and simply stop and meander through the tombstones and markers. I love walking through them….from the simple church cemeteries that litter the countryside to the larger ones that cover acres with large tombstones and ornate mausoleums. Even those resting places that peek out from under years of growth and neglect with simple slab rocks for markers call out to me.
The people there…..they have such interesting stories to tell.
Take Thomas Edward Zellars, for instance. His resting spot is the Grantville City Cemetery in Grantville, Georgia. It might be easy to walk past his grave marker. It looks like so many others containing someone’s name and birth and death dates, but Mr. Zellar’s final resting place is also marked with a Georgia historical marker….you know….one of those green and gold signs you normally zoom past alongside the road.
….and Thomas Edward Zellars really does deserve his marker.
Mr. Zellars was born in 1898 in Grantville, Georgia…a unique hamlet in Coweta County. He was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, a favorite place of mine I’ve written about here, here, and here at other various blogs where I publish some of my work. Upon graduation in 1920 he was assigned to the USS Mississippi, also known as Battleship No. 41, in the position of turret commander and held the rank of lieutenant (junior grade).
During gunnery practice off San Pedro, California on June 12, 1924 there was a terrible explosion aboard the Mississippi in the very turret Zellars commanded. Naval history records state that Mr. Zellars along with 47 others were asphyxiated almost immediately.
However, Zellars did have enough time and enough wits about him to open flood valves that extinguished the fire which saved the ship and the remaining members of the crew.
The U.S. Navy honored Zellars for his action by naming an Allen M. Sumner class destroyer for him…..the USS Zellars. The ship named for Grantville’s military hero served in the Okinawa invasion force during World War II, and was one of the ships that subjected the island to a “systematic, long duration preinvasion bombardment.”
The USS Zellars is pictured below.
During the Korean War the USS Zellars’ primary mission was gunfire support for United Nations on shore and conducted coastal surveillance. Once source states the Zellars was available for antisubmarine protection but the threat never really materialized.
Later on the Zellars served as a Naval Reserve training ship and finally was decommissioned on March 19, 1971. It was sold to the Iranian government and renamed Babr. As of today….the ship has more than likely been scrapped.
The next time you feel that inexplicable desire to visit a cemetery don’t fight it. Go on…..answer that tug on your sleeve.
As the character Minerva states in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, “To understand the living, you got to commune with the dead.”
Another cemetery I’ve written about is Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.