Residents clean cemetery for Memorial Day

David Sena, left, and Jim Apodaca work on cleaning up Apodaca’s grandfather’s grave Sunday morning at Mission Garden of Memories in Clovis. The neighbors also worked on fixing up other graves for Memorial Day. (Staff photo: John Eisel)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Memorial Day is not just another day for Tommy E. Sena of Clovis. He hatched an idea this weekend to go out to Mission Garden of Memories on Sunday and whack some weeds in the non-endowed section of the cemetery.

“I wanted to make sure it looked really beautiful for Memorial Day,” Sena said. “I want this to be the season of celebration for our loved ones.”

He recruited the help of his nephew, Jimmy Baca, and took to the cemetery at sunrise, he said. Inspired by the meaning of Memorial Day, and recent newspaper reports that showed the cemetery was being overrun by weeds, Sena said he wanted to rid the cemetery of the unsightly overgrowth.

“A large portion of my family is buried there,” Sena said. “Memorial Day is a very important day.”

One area veteran, who experienced one of the darker passages of the Japanese-American war, agreed that those who died in service to this country must be remembered.

“I don’t think they are teaching enough of that in school anymore,” said Buren Johnston, who spent 1,268 days in Japanese captivity during World War II. “Freedom is pretty expensive, pretty costly.”

He said he appreciates that people take time to volunteer to support veterans and remember those who lost their lives for freedom’s sake. Johnston was subjected to the Bataan Death March, in which many Americans died in Japanese captivity.

More than 70,000 Allied soldiers surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, and were forced to march about 60 miles to a prison camp. Between 5,000 and 11,000 never made it, according to pbs.org.

Johnston — who was 25 at the time — said he faced a new set of difficulties once he reached the camps: working on a farm without shoes, being forced to mine coal in Japan, random executions of his fellow soldiers, and hellish boat rides bound for Japan.

Johnston said he will be attending the 2005 Joint Veterans Council Memorial Day service at Lawn Haven today.

Houston-based Service Corporation International is responsible for the upkeep of the endowed sections of Mission Garden of Memories and Lawn Haven. The responsibility of keeping up the non-endowed sections of Mission Garden falls to the family of the deceased, said Joe Champouillon with Steed-Todd funeral home.

“The problem that you run into,” Champouillon said, “is there aren’t any family (members) around to take care of them.”

Champouillon said he is a veteran of the Vietnam war, and help from Sena and other volunteers is welcomed. He also said the cemetery staff were doing similar work this weekend to help clean up parts of the grounds.

“Anybody’s welcome to do that if they want to,” Champouillon said. He said the fact that people care about Memorial Day bodes well for the community.

“It’s when somebody doesn’t care, that’s when the community has lost it’s spirit.”

Sena, who was employed with SCI from 1996 to 2000, said he also wants to make a good impression and perhaps get a job with the company as a groundskeeper or a superintendent. Sena and his nephew were able to knock down weeds on the eastern side of the cemetery over the course of several hours Sunday, he said. Friends and former co-workers, David Sena and Jim Apodaca, also worked to clear weeds at the cemetery.