Loved ones attend to graves at Los Angeles National Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day


Addison Guerrero is anxiously preparing for a rite of passage into adulthood — her drivers test.

So Sunday began as many days recently have, with a practice drive alongside her mom Patti Talbot and her 14-year-old brother Aiden Guerrero.

This drive though took her back in history. She ferried her family — on the freeway no less — to visit the Los Angeles National Cemetery and the grave of her great-great-grandfather Roy D. Dolen. Born April 24, 1895, Dolen served as a horseshoer during World War I, when cars were rare and men like him traveled to faraway lands calming the animals as bombs exploded around them.

Siblings Aiden and Addison Guerrero clean the graves surrounding their ancestor.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Now Guerrero was prone alongside her brother, scrubbing his tombstone and the graves of his “neighbors” with a toothbrush. Her grandfather and grandmother Brad and Chris Talbot, both 73, started this tradition some 50 years ago. They know very little about Roy’s wartime service but describe him as a quiet man who later traveled with the carnival and was an early Disneyland employee.

“I can’t imagine how frightened those horses must have been,” Brad said as he cropped the grass tightly around the marble stone with garden shears.

Four people at a cemetery kneel and clean graves.

Patti Talbot, from left, Brad Talbot, Addison Guerrero, Chris Talbot and Aiden Guerrero clean the graves of their family member’s “neighbors.”

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

His wife Chris, Roy’s granddaughter, wore a cowboy hat emblazoned with an American flag and observed. Brad’s been coming with her to the cemetery since they first started dating in the early 1970s and she’s “happy to train the next generation.” The couple owned a Corvette and joined a club where they learned the best way to keep its details clean was with a toothbrush.

She can’t quite put into words why the activity brings her such satisfaction other than it’s a link to her parents who have also passed away. The family laid three bouquets of flowers they bought at Ralph’s beside Dolen’s grave.

They also lay a single bouquet on the grave beside Dolen’s. The family like to say that Dolen and his neighbor are friends. Maybe they knew one another. So they clean up the grass and scrub away the mulch from those graves too. Then they seek out the only other horseshoer they’ve found in the cemetery and clean his grave too.

Oliver Kay, a captain in civil affairs unit spends time with his twin sons Xavier and Max, left and center,

Oliver Kay, a captain in the Army’s civil affairs unit, spends time with his twin sons Xavier and Max, left and center, straightening flags on gravesites and chatting about U.S. history at the Los Angeles National Cemetery on Sunday.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Memorial Day weekend includes big band performances and other events at the cemetery. Hundreds of volunteers came to place flags before each grave on Saturday and reenact the Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War. Monday’s festivities will include speeches by elected officials and other prominent guests. But Sunday morning — gray and chilly — was full of quiet moments where loved ones reconnected and strangers contemplated the sacrifices endured by so many servicemen and women.

Oliver Kay wore his Army green service uniform as he knelt beside his twin sons Max and Xavier. Kay had served six years in the British Army, later joining the U.S. Army where after 14 years he now serves as a captain in a civil affairs unit. His sons asked him “which of my friends who died are buried here.”

He told them they weren’t buried here but in distant graves across the world. The visit to the cemetery inspires his sons to be curious. Surrounded by so many stories, their interest in history, he said, will only grow.

Scott Sargent, who works as security, looks down towards his family member, Lewis L. Owens's gravesite.

Scott Sargent, who works as security at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, looks at the gravesite of his family member, Lewis L. Owens, on Sunday.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Security guard Scott Sargent, 59, is in awe of those servicemen and women who hail from places such as Syria, China or Ukraine. He’s equally impressed by the range of jobs done by the deceased —whether they be a balloonist, a chauffeur or a mechanic. But what gives the former Cudahy police officer the greatest satisfaction is when he comes upon someone searching for a loved one or when a flag has fallen over.

The little help he’s able to offer when he readjusts a fallen flag makes his day.

Occasionally he’ll stop by two graves that are less trafficked. One is on the south side of the cemetery near a spot where a large oak tree once stood in the late 1960.

Lewis L. Owens
Pennsyvlania
S. Sgt US Army
WORLD WAR II
SEPT 16 1920 – AUG 6 1968

He remembers visiting as a kid to see the grave of his stepfather.

“There are so many amazing lives here,” he said, “including his.”



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