|Laurie Daynes, left, and Sallie Lovorn, Tombstone chapter members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, view some of the headstones located in the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Tuesday. (Mark Levy-Herald/Review)
SIERRA VISTA - The ashes of retired Air Force Major Fred L. Bagley, 78, of Bisbee were interred Wednesday in the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery Columbaria, with full and solemn military honors.
Standing with friends and family, the Davis-Monthan Air Force Honor Guard, chaplain and cemetery officials was a woman clad in black.
Laurie Daynes of Sierra Vista, wearing white gloves and a black dress, stood silently as a representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The retired officer's earthly remains were added to many others in the niches of the softly curving walls of the columbarium, while 16 people watched under threatening skies and two distant aircraft performed a silent pas de deux over the airfield. A breeze rippled nearby foliage.
Whether anyone else is there to pay their respects or not, at least one woman from the DAR will stand as a silent witness during the interment of veterans in the cemetery.
Since starting the practice locally in October of 2003, DAR volunteers have attended 130 services. Statewide, some 3,000 services in all have been witnessed by the silent ladies of the DAR, said Carol Rilling of the Tombstone Chapter of the DAR.
The practice originated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1948 with a volunteer group of military wives and lady veterans. The purpose is to "honor and attend our veterans' last tribute at the cemetery and affirm that they are there to give honor to those who gave military service to our country," said a DAR brochure.
Veterans with no family in attendance are of particular concern to the DAR.
Neil Dora, a Veterans of Foreign Wars member in Phoenix, suggested that the DAR take on this role in the Phoenix area. The National Memorial Ladies, directed by Valerie K. Price, began their service on Nov. 1, 2002, at the National Memorial Cemetery in Cave Creek. Price has helped establish many of these groups in several states since then.
The Tombstone Chapter decided in June 2003 to sponsor a group at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery. During October of that year, ladies were present to pay a final tribute to 19 veterans. Three interments would have had no one but cemetery staff present without the DAR vigil.
Because the cemetery at Fort Huachuca is one of just a few veterans cemeteries, people come from across the U.S. to be buried there, Daynes said. The DAR ladies may not know until a day in advance that an interment is planned, but they will make sure someone will be there.
Daynes has done about 30, introducing herself beforehand to mourners and usually singing "The Lord's Prayer."
"No matter how many times you hear taps, you get a tear," she said.
"It's a humbling experience; it's a gift," she said of her experiences.
A descendant of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and of Revolutionary War soldier Ezekiel Bradford, Daynes is a fourth-generation member of the DAR. Her great-grandmother founded a chapter in 1908 in Danville, Ill.
Like all DAR members, she had to prove lineal dscent from a "patriot" of the American Revolution, which includes soldiers, committees that supported the Declaration of Independence, and signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Any woman 18 years of age, worldwide, is eligible to join the DAR if they can provide that proof, said Rilling - who has 12 ties to the Revolution.
An organizer of new chapters, Rilling travels across the United States and overseas to conduct workshops on the DAR and to recruit new members.
She plans to visit Gallup, N.M., next to start a chapter and has started chapters in Spain and Italy. She pays her own way and loves it.
"America needs the DAR, needs the kind of thing we do," she said.
"Some women are unaware (of their lineage) until the workshops," Rillings said. Women in Spain and Italy were able to find connections to the American revolutionaries, as well as many black women in the United States.
Rillings is careful to note that the DAR is open to all races and the organization is working dilligently to overcome the taint of racism associated with its treatment of American singer Marian Anderson in 1939.
That year, promoter Sol Hurok and officials from Howard University tried to arrange a concert for the celebrated black diva in Constitution Hall, the largest location in Washington, D.C.
The DAR, which owns the hall, touched off national protests when they refused to allow her to sing there.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, with encouragement from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, responded by scheduling a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939.
The Easter Sunday program drew a crowd of 75,000 people and millions of radio listeners.
The episode caused the news media to focus greater attention on subsequent cases of discrimination involving Anderson and other African Americans.
"We were so sorry for that," Rilling said, adding one of her goals is to move past that episode and "get every woman who is eligible."
There are currently some 170,000 members in 3,000 chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 11 foreign countries.
The Tombstone Chapter, now based in Sierra Vista, has 50 members.
The DAR has 30 committees devoted to promoting historic preservation, education and "patriotic endeavor," Rilling noted.
The activity most visible locally and most appropriate Memorial Day weekend is the cemetery vigil.
"It's an added dimension of dignity and honor," said Terry Nuti, assistant administrator at the cemetery. "It's a very nice addition and is very well received by the families."