Right there by the father’s grave Thursday, as the light faded toward dusk on Veterans Day, stood two of the Walden sons – Chad and Shaun.
Chad held the hand of his tiny daughter, Hannah. Ken Walden’s daughter, Shana, stood nearby.
Shane, a third son, had to work and couldn’t get there, but his siblings carried his spirit.
They watched as some people who knew their father and some who didn’t – more than a hundred in all – came together to make Ken Walden’s grave whole again.
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A few days before Veterans Day, somebody stole a bunch of brass and copper flower vases from the Bass-Cauthen Funeral Home Rock Hill Memorial Garden cemetery. Many were from veterans graves.
One of those veterans was Ken Walden, who spent most of his adult life after being wounded in combat in Vietnam fighting for veterans’ rights and veterans’ dignity.of his adult life fighting for veterans' rights and veterans' dignity after being wounded in combat in Vietnam.
The two people who allegedly stole those vases to sell for scrap are in jail. But the funeral home got many of the vases back, and returned them to the graves. Walden's vase, and Walden's grave, were the last to become whole.
Walden’s vase, and Walden’s grave, the last to become whole.
A Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard took care of the honors with the words: "We wish to replace what was taken with disrespect and dishonor, with respect and honor."
The vase was reset and Ken Walden's grave plaques - which he designed himself before he died, knowing that he wanted his military achievements listed - were no longer desecrated.
Walden was buried right there in his military beret and vest and boots.
"He cared about veterans and people more than anybody I know," Shaun Walden said of his father. "It hurt that somebody would do this to his grave.
"But now it is made right."
Many of those in attendance were members of the Rolling Thunder veterans group, which Walden helped found. He was its first president. They saw the replaced vases, and flowers, and no more ruined graves.
Yet that little ceremony - hastily organized by Danny Gibson of the funeral home to honor Walden and the other veterans whose graves had been vandalized - showed what Veterans Day is all about in another way.
Gifts for children
In the audience of veterans and others, so wide he almost blocked out the setting sun, stood a burly warrant officer named Steve Davis.
Davis is 54 and has been with the National Guard for more than 30 of those years. He runs the motor pool at the Rock Hill armory and there is no doubt - none - who runs the place.
He was in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and what Davis did in that war was fix tanks and jeeps and give out dolls.
Yes, dolls - and food - that he had asked people back here in Rock Hill to donate for Iraqi children who never had much food or a doll in their whole lives. Steve Davis gave out presents to the children of war, so that those children would know what an American soldier truly stands for.
"I know a little bit about what soldiers do, and what they give up, and why this day, Veterans Day, is important," said Davis.
And beside Davis at that ceremony Thursday for Veterans Day was a woman in tears named Beverly Montgomery.
First war, then cancer
Montgomery was alone because her husband, Ricky - who spent 2007 and 2008 in Afghanistan with Rock Hill's National Guard unit and works for Davis in the National Guard armory motor pool - could not get to the ceremony.
Ricky Montgomery, 50, has cancer, after doing some of the most dangerous work in the world in Afghanistan.
"He wanted to come today, but the chemotherapy. ..." said Beverly Montgomery.
Yet Beverly Montgomery came to that ceremony Thursday to honor her husband and Ken Walden and the other soldiers from the Fort Mill armory who just got back from Afghanistan two weeks ago.
To honor those soldiers who came back - or didn't - from all wars.
"I just had to come," Beverly Montgomery said.
The family of Ken Walden walked out together.
Steve Davis walked out with Beverly Montgomery.
They all seemed to hold each other, supporting each other, on this Veterans Day.
Want to go?
You have one more chance to honor and say thanks to our veterans in York County:
10 a.m. Saturday - The York Veterans Day parade heads north on Congress Street from Jefferson Street to Madison Street, with a program at the end in the Whitesides Cleaners parking lot.