All day, every day, no matter the weather, members of The Old Guard, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
With the same diligence and dedication, Alyx Rashaad keeps vigil over the grave of Metropolitan Police Officer Charleston Hartfield, who was killed during the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting Oct. 1, 2017.
She is at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery daily making sure the grave site of “Chucky,” as she calls her late friend and colleague, remains in pristine condition.
“Humbly I do this task to ensure that when his wife, children, family members, friends and other visitors come to pay their respects or spend time in reflection at the cemetery enjoy their visit and know that our communities have not forgotten his great sacrifice.”
Monday would have been his birthday and she was there a few days before, with scissors hand trimming the grass around the headstone and placing flowers to make sure everything was perfectly in place before his family arrived.
The two met at University Medical Center in Las Vegas where she worked as an emergency dispatcher and he brought in suspects who needed medical attention or came in when patients became unruly.
Rashaad called Hartfield “Little Big Brother” because he served as a mentor to youth in trouble with the law and she was bigger and older than him.
She was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival the night he was killed. She said she had left the festival grounds and was on the way to her car when she heard the shooting begin. Immediately she went to the hospital and told staff there to prepare for mass casualties.
“The next thing I know I was in critical care,” she said.
She hadn’t been injured in the shooting, but a sharp pain in her upper abdomen led to her having test that revealed she had cervical cancer in its latest stage.
She began treatment that day and had surgery in February where she was “gutted like a fish.”
That didn’t deter her from caring for her friend’s graveside. She said the only days she has missed caring for his final resting place since he was buried were those she was physically unable to get to the cemetery.
Even on the day that we met, she had to delay our appointment because her oncologist scheduled additional radiation.
During her time at the cemetery, she has become friends with others who come regularly to pay tribute to their loved ones. She said she’s also seen things and actions that she views as disrespectful and desecrating the sanctity of veterans’ final resting places. This includes taking items that have been placed on people’s gravestones and people on dirt bikes racing through the cemetery.
Rashaad firmly believes many of these actions should be classified as vandalism and hopes that something can be done to prevent it from happening in the future. She would like to see security cameras put in place.
While she praised cemetery officials for doing their best to keep the cemetery in pristine condition, she’s frustrated.
Part of that frustration comes from different interpretations of the Veterans Administration’s regulations for what is allowed to be placed at grave sites.
Terri Hendry, communications director for the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, said items that are not approved, which includes medals, photographs and other items Rashaad claims were stolen, are removed by cemetery staff and disposed of properly. Those with historical significance are given to local museums.
She said there are no plans to increase security or install cameras at the veterans cemetery.
The area between the official interpretation of regulations and Rashaad’s vision for how one should pay proper respect to those who gave their all for this country are murky. Yet one thing remains clear: Our veterans will never been forgotten and be under constant vigil by those who care.
Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.