Cemetery Director for the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery
Interview by G. Andrew Pouncey
September 18, 2020
James Lindsey was born on September 27, 1956, on a military base (Fort Carson, Colorado), where his father served in the U.S. Army. When he got out of the Army, James’ father moved his wife and James back to Greenville, Mississippi, where his grandmother had a farm. His grandmother was a seamstress on the Air Force base in Greenville. James’s father died in a small civilian aircraft accident while hunting on Lake Ferguson when James was seven (7) years old. Upon his death, James’ mother decided to move to Florida and James moved in with his grandmother. They walked everywhere because they didn’t have transportation. It was three (3) miles to the First Baptist Church of Greenville.
James rode his bicycle seven (7) miles to school each day and worked as a janitor to pay for school, graduating in May of his 18th year from Greenville Christian School. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in June and headed to boot camp. His first plane ride would take him from Jackson, Mississippi to the San Diego Recruiting Depot. James said, “Bootcamp got off to a good start. It was the first night I had ever slept in air conditioning.” He began as a Private and worked his way up to Private First Class, to Lance Corporal, and finally Corporal. His three (3) year commitment contract trained him as a Machine Gunner 0031.
While serving in the military, he was chosen to participate in the USMC Honor Guard. The Honor Guard would represent the United States Marine Corps at the Silver Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth of England in 1977. His travels took him to 17 countries where he marched on the embassy grounds in England, Denmark, Germany, Morocco, the west coast of Africa, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and back to Africa for President Carter.
James would serve three (3) years of active service (1975-1978), and three (3) years of inactive service from 1978-1981. By the end of his service, he had received four (4) Meritorious Masts Commendations for excellence in service to his country. He went first class, no walking or bicycling for transportation. From a shotgun house in Greenville, he saw the world.
After the service, he moved back to Greenville to be close to his grandmother who lived only a few more years. In 1980, James married into a farm family in Cleveland, Mississippi, and he and Susan would raise their two children, Joshua and Hunter. The farm produced rice, beans, and cotton.
James worked with Durable Medical Company, and then with LINCARE, a durable medical company, for 11 years. Susan would pass away in their 21st year of marriage. In 2007, James married Teri, and he helped to raise her three (3) children.
While employed, James was doing military honors with the Marine Corps League. In 2016, a friend told him of an opening at the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Germantown, TN. He had no experience working with cemeteries other than performing military honors for funerals and special occasions. John Drnek, of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services, and Phil Sinclair, the current Director of the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery interviewed James for the position of Director. James says that “Phil made the transition a smooth one.” James would begin his new job as Director in 2016.
James has been a blessing to the veterans and their families at a time when they need comfort and solace. James believes in honoring those who have given and encourages those who have been left. He believes that “while the veteran receives the honor, the spouse serves as well, holding the family together while the other half serves.” James believes “everything here is sacred, and feels it is a dream to have been chosen to be one of four directors to assume this position across Tennessee.” You can see these words acted on as he carries out his duties.
James says that “it is something very special in every veteran’s life when they raise their hand and give their life for their country. This is not just another casket. The American flag draped across a casket is the whole United States saying thank you.” James gets emotional when he speaks about shaking the hand of a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, watching a Dad give his final salute to his son and saying to the honor guard “sir, you may proceed with the military honors.”
He also feels that those who have given their best for their country deserve only the best. He has a coffin in an empty room down the hall from his office. It’s a place for the honor guard to practice before each service. Whether it’s the cadence of their step or the folding of a flag, he expects what any family member expects when their loved one has served their country and given their life.
Since James has been in service to West Tennessee, he has eliminated the ‘straight drop’. When he saw a funeral van with the remains of an unclaimed veteran back up to the cemetery van; and the transfer of a worn cardboard box to the van that then pulled away to the burial site, he said “never again.” From that point on, whether or not a veteran has family, money or a support group, that veteran received an honor guard and military honors. Thanks to local funeral homes, each unclaimed veteran now has a beautiful casket. Attendance has grown at the services. One driver of a hearse was waiting at a distance for instructions to move forward, but he remained parked. He told James “I must be at the wrong service as the unclaimed veteran had no family. James said, “Kelvin, you see all those people up there? He said “yes”, and James replied, “all those people are this soldier’s family.”
It has also been during James’ tenure that 6,240 crypts have been added on the north side of the cemetery (August 8, 2016).
Before I left this interview, James showed me a small linen handkerchief in the shape of a folded flag. He slowly unfolded the flag to expose three shells, the shells that were saved from a 21-gun salute. This handkerchief had fallen from one of the coffin flags that were flying alongside the entry drive. “Everything here is sacred,” said James