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His brother's keeper: West Frankfort man calls tradition of decorating sibling's grave 'an honor'

  • Jerry Kinney sweeps dried grass away from the brass foot marker of his late brother, Richard Lee, while his companion, Sue Orlowski, is busy cleaning the Vietnam War hero's tombstone at Rose Hill Cemetery in Marion just prior to the Memorial Day holiday.

    Jerry Kinney sweeps dried grass away from the brass foot marker of his late brother, Richard Lee, while his companion, Sue Orlowski, is busy cleaning the Vietnam War hero's tombstone at Rose Hill Cemetery in Marion just prior to the Memorial Day holiday.
    Ceasar Maragni photo

  • After carefully sweeping freshly mowed grass away from his late brother Richard Lee Kinney's brass foot marker at Marion's Rose Hill Cemetery, Jerry Kinney pauses to think about the young war hero who was killed in action at age 19 in Vietnam. Kinney said, 'Being brothers, we talked quite a bit about our plans in life, and he told me that when he got home from Vietnam, he was going to go to SIU in Carbondale and study dentistry. But a bullet from a Vietcong machine gun ended that dream and his life, as well.'

    After carefully sweeping freshly mowed grass away from his late brother Richard Lee Kinney's brass foot marker at Marion's Rose Hill Cemetery, Jerry Kinney pauses to think about the young war hero who was killed in action at age 19 in Vietnam. Kinney said, 'Being brothers, we talked quite a bit about our plans in life, and he told me that when he got home from Vietnam, he was going to go to SIU in Carbondale and study dentistry. But a bullet from a Vietcong machine gun ended that dream and his life, as well.'
    Ceasar Maragni photo

 
By Ceasar Maragni
Contributing writer
updated: 5/31/2018 6:17 PM

There was a time not so long ago in America when a visit to most any cemetery in the country in the days just prior to Memorial Day offered the sight of dozens of people scattered around the grounds, working quietly and solemnly, cleaning the gravestones and markers of their deceased loved ones before decorating them with floral arrangements.

Fast forward to the present and there is a difference -- a big difference. You'll not likely see such crowds that the sacred grounds used to attract.

Such was the case at Rose Hill Cemetery in Marion on a recent sunny day shortly before Memorial Day, when only a few were seen sprucing up and decorating the final resting places of their loved ones.

Among them were West Frankfort natives Jerry Kinney and companion Sue Orlowski.

The couple was there to pay their respects to family members by cleaning their burial plots and placing new flowers and bouquets at the grave monuments and markers.

Orlowski thinks their generation might be the last to carry on this tradition.

"I'm not seeing any of the younger folks even interested in coming to the cemeteries, let alone decorating," he said.

Kinney calls it an honor to still be able to do so.

"Oh, it is an honor," he said. "I can still get here every year and pay my respects to my family and in particular my brother, Richard Lee."

Kinney went on to explain that his baby brother was among the 58,000 mostly young Americans who were killed in Vietnam.

"Richard was only 19 when he was killed by machine-gun fire while he was tending to the wounded on the battlefield during a firefight," Kinney said. "He was a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine unit."

Kinney said what is burned into his memory is the telephone call he received from his mother telling him the crushing news.

"I was home in Decatur at the time when mama called and said, 'Your brother's been killed in Vietnam.' I still miss him today after all these years."