The Memorial Day scene at Fort Douglas Military Cemetery was the same as it was 36 years ago: A 3-year-old boy and his father decorating a grave with a small flag.

Only the generations had changed. The father and son of 1967 had become grandfather and father, with a 3-year-old grandson taking his father's place at the grave of 2nd Lt. C.D. Vance.

"I think it would be a good tradition to hand down," said Lt. Col. Mike Richardson, who flew with his 3-year-old son, Jacob, from Washington, D.C. Mike Richardson's father, Dennis R. Richardson, flew to Salt Lake from Illinois for the event.

In 1967, the elder Richardson was 1st Lt. Richardson and executive officer of Fort Douglas. He took Mike, then 3, and two daughters to the fort's cemetery on Memorial Day and picked a grave at random to decorate.

The Deseret News published a photo of 3-year-old Mike Richardson at Vance's grave. Now stationed at the Pentagon, Mike Richardson has had a framed copy of the picture with him for the past 10 years or so and wanted to bring his son to Salt Lake City to decorate the grave.

"I've had the picture hanging in our home wherever we've lived," Mike Richardson said. "It struck me as important that we recognize our soldiers for their sacrifices."

A Signal Corps officer, just as his father was, Lt. Col. Richardson took the small flag back and said he would frame it as a remembrance.

Dennis Richardson said he hoped his grandson will someday bring his own 3-year-old son to the cemetery on Memorial Day and remember Vance and the other soldiers buried there.

Lt. Col. Richardson is also an Airborne Ranger and commanded an infantry company with the 82nd Airborne Division during Desert Storm.

Vance died Feb. 12, 1893, at Fort Douglas. The 22-year-old Arkansas native was a member of Co. C, 16th Infantry. He had been court-martialed for allegedly assaulting another officer's wife. He was convicted and the court-martial proceedings were forwarded to the War Department and the president, who upheld the conviction and ordered Vance dismissed from the service.

In reporting on the incident, the Deseret News of Feb. 11, 1893, called Vance "a dashing young officer" and speculated that he had "fondly, but vainly hoped the verdict would be in his favor."

That morning, Vance shot himself in the head with his .45-caliber service revolver. He died the following day without recovering consciousness.

Dennis Richardson said of Vance, and of the randomness of picking his grave to memorialize: "Maybe he didn't do it. Maybe this is the way he is meant to be remembered."


E-MAIL: lweist@desnews.com