Meet the man behind Rosemount’s memorialsOn the morning of Memorial Day Jack Wallace walked through a cemetery crowded with people who had gathered to remember a lost loved one. Groups clustered around graves marked with a star and a miniature flag. If anyone gave any thought to where the symbols of military service had come from, nobody said anything.
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
On the morning of Memorial Day Jack Wallace walked through a cemetery crowded with people who had gathered to remember a lost loved one. Groups clustered around graves marked with a star and a miniature flag. If anyone gave any thought to where the symbols of military service had come from, nobody said anything.
That’s OK. Wallace doesn’t do the job for recognition. He does it, he said, to say Thank you.
For the past 15 years Wallace has been the go-to guy when it comes to installing Memorial Day decorations at an expanding number of Rosemount-area cemeteries. He inherited the job from Bob Wolf and Jack Warweg, two close friends who are now buried in this particular cemetery. He carries it out each no matter how bad the weather and no matter how comfortable his bed might feel on the morning he’s scheduled to do his work.
“I’d go out there if I had two broken legs and do it,” said Wallace. “I feel obligated. I have to do this. I just kick the feet out and get going.”
Last Saturday morning Wallace got up and planted 130-some flags at seven area cemeteries. Even with the help of Boy Scouts from several local troops it took three or four hours to plant stars and flags at Three cemeteries in Rosemount. He also decorated Apple Valley’s Lebanon Cemetery, the original St. Joseph Cemetery on Pilot Knob Road and a Cemetery off of Diffley Road in Eagan. That last one he stumbled on a couple of years ago and adopted because it appeared nobody else was caring for it. He had to argue with Rosemount’s veterans’ organizations about it. They told him it wasn’t their responsibility. He said he didn’t care.
“It’s still a brotherhood of veterans,” he said. “I feel obligated to take care of them.”
Wallace talks a lot about obligation. He said decorating the cemeteries is his way of giving back to the men and women who gave their time and in some cases their lives to serve their country. It’s a claim that ignores Wallace’s own service as a medic in Vietnam, but Wallace shrugs off that argument. He can give back, therefore he should. And that’s pretty much the end of the argument. Wallace also marched as part of the color guard in Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at Central Park.
Wallace enjoys decorating the cemeteries, and he likes the help he gets. But it’s the second part of the job he really loves. That happened Tuesday, when he made the rounds of the cemeteries a second time to pick up all of the decorations he just installed. He was alone then, and he took his time, as he does every year. He stopped at Wolf’s grave, at Warweg’s and at several others. He said a few words to the friends he had lost. He thanked them again.
“I know that sounds ridiculous,” he said after he explained his Tuesday ritual. “A lot of these people in some of the cemeteries I knew personally. They were good friends. I hope they’re resting in peace.”
Wallace thinks from time to time about the future of his job. He’s not getting any younger, and the list of graves to decorate gets longer every year. He thinks about who will be around to take over once he, like Warweg and Wolf before him, can no longer do the job.
That day is still several years off, though. For now, Wallace is happy to get up once a year to make his rounds. He’s happy to hunt down graves that are not on his list, as he did Monday, trying to make sense of notes someone else had scribbled. He couldn’t make out the name, only a general location and the name on a nearby headstone. He found it, though. He planted the flag and he spent some time talking with one of the family members who had gathered around the grave. He promised to add the site to his ever-growing list.
Moments like that, Wallace said — moments like all of the stops he made at Monday’s cemetery ceremonies — are why he gets up even when the weather is cold and rainy.
“Look at those people remembering their loved ones,” Wallace said as he walked back toward his truck after depositing his last flag. “That makes it all worth it.”