The grass around the grave sites looked flawless Wednesday morning as Tina Velazquez buried her mother’s remains with full military honors at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.
The reality finally set in that this Veterans Day would be different than every one before.
The woman who taught Velazquez to respect men and women in uniform is gone, she said, but the holiday will still carry the same meaning.
“She loved being in the military and was very proud of her service,” Velazquez said of her mother.
Toni Luther served in the Navy from 1976 to 1981 and died last month at age 69. She always had a great deal of pride in the fact that she was a veteran, her daughter said.
Velazquez is an Army veteran herself who served from 1996 to 2003. Her Army husband is stationed at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico.
“We really have a military family going all the way back to my grandparents,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez and her twin 9-year-old daughters live in Mandarin where they shared the home with Luther. Up until this year it’s been the same routine every Veterans Day.
The first stop was Chili’s where mother and daughter split an appetizer of nachos. Luther always ordered the pasta, and Velazquez a quesadilla.
The women shared stories from their military service while they ate — like the time Luther drove a truck off a pier in Hawaii, or the time civilians threw batteries at her when she got off a plane wearing her uniform.
The incident with the batteries was something that happened when people were upset about the Vietnam War. Velazquez said that type of hatred for the military always stuck with her mother.
“She used to let people know how important it was to respect the military,” Velazquez said. The petite woman’s voice got loud as she scolded anyone who showed disrespect.
To celebrate Veterans Day in the evening the two female veterans took the twins to dinner at a place that honored military service — usually it was Golden Corral where Luther proudly displayed a sticker showing others she was a veteran.
The girls listened to their mother and grandmother talk about the importance of showing respect to the military, Velazquez said.
For a while the family lived on base at Jacksonville Naval Air Station where they could hear a bugler play taps each night.
Velazquez said Luther would remind her twin granddaughters to stop what they were doing when the bugle played. That lesson still sticks with the girls even though Luther is gone.
They went trick or treating on the base with their mom less than a month after Luther’s death, and when they heard the bugle they stopped in their tracks, Velazquez said.
“That’s something they learned from their grandmother,” she said.
The girls get Friday off from school this year because Veterans Day falls on Saturday. But thanks to Luther they know the true reason behind the holiday, Velazquez said.
The twins attended a memorial service for Luther in Ohio, but Velazquez said she didn’t bring them to the cemetery Wednesday because it’s been an extremely emotional stretch.
A bugler played taps at the cemetery in Luther’s honor, and two Navy sailors in dress uniform folded a flag and presented it to Velazquez.
The procession then made its way to the section of the cemetery where Luther will rest for eternity. Velazquez shoveled dirt on top of the urn and placed flowers on the grave.
She said it’s only fitting that a woman who was so passionate about honoring veterans will forever be surrounded by others who served their country.
Velazquez said now it’s up to her to create new traditions with her daughters. It’s up to her to continue to show them the importance of respecting those who served, especially on Veterans Day.
She plans to go out to eat Saturday like she does every year, but this will be the first Veterans Day without the most important veteran in her life, the one who taught her the importance of respecting everyone who served.
Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308