People remember the stories behind the headstones at national cemetery

Sgt. Michael Gabel
Sgt. Michael Gabel

ZACHARY, LA (WAFB) - Many people honor the memory of fallen heroes with solemn ceremonies at gravesites on Memorial Day, but for those who have lost family and friends to war, it's more than just a time to remember. It's also a time to tell their stories.

Rodney Craig is an amateur photographer.

"A photographer just captures moments in time," Craig said. "I look for the special things."

He has been capturing those moments inside Port Hudson National Cemetery for the past seven years. For him, they're a personal reminder of the stories behind the headstones.

"You see people out here who've lost fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles," Craig said.

One of those people is David Gabel. He and his family have spent the last seven Memorial Day holidays at Port Hudson National Cemetery sharing stories about his brother.

"There are two families today that aren't having to celebrate like we are because of Michael's decision," Gabel said. "That's the only way they're (David Gabel's children) going to know him and remember him is through the stories we tell."

Sgt. Michael Gabel was killed in Afghanistan when his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device.

"The guys that were supposed to be riding point that day were two married men with kids. He told them, 'Married men with kids don't ride point on my shift.' Because of his choice, two families got to keep their dads," Gabel added.

As important as knowing his sacrifice, for David, this trip is about his children knowing Uncle Michael. The person he was and what he loved, like cooking and Coca-Cola.

"There's a six-pack of Coke in the coffin with him. And every year, we come. We pause in telling our stories and we pour out one can of Coke with him. Slick's right up there," Gabel explained.

It's those stories behind the headstones, the ones that may only be shared with family, but can be felt in a single image that Craig hopes to do justice.

"Just to see them strolling through the headstones, it's just a really special moment. Just wondering what they're thinking together," he said.

"As the days and weeks and months turn into years, you stop talking about your fallen relatives because they're not there creating new stories with you. A day like today really matters because it helps bring it forward. It helps remember their stories," Gabel said.

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