Having grown up with a father who bravely fought in the Korean Conflict, I have a deep appreciation for U.S. soldiers and their families. A local Cranford business owner was equally proud of his late father, who received a Purple Heart for his service in the military, and was able to secure a funeral for him in the famed Arlington National Cemetery. It seems fitting to share his experience with you as we approach Independence Day.
Shaun Vanclief is the owner of one of Downtown Cranford’s best-loved boutiques: Atlantic Beach Soap Company. Shaun’s father passed away in 1997, and his mother followed in 2001, and both were cremated. Sean’s father had fought in the Battle of Normandy and received several accolades for his invaluable service. About two years ago, Shaun contacted Arlington National, where it’s a notoriously long process to arrange for funerals. Shaun said, “As luck would have it, they were just breaking ground for new mausoleums. I told them about my father, and asked if my mother could be interred with him, and they were very receptive to it.”
For those who don’t know, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia has been the burial grounds for former U.S. soldiers and widows of servicemen since the Civil War. There are currently more than 400,000 graves there.
On June 6th of this year, Shaun had one of the most moving experiences of his life when his parents were laid to rest together at Arlington. I asked Shaun to describe the ceremony for me: “It was like a dance; I can’t explain it any other way. The whole experience was so fined-tuned and incredible, like a choreography. Right from the beginning with the chaplain down to the Arlington Ladies, whom I had never heard of before. I’m 58 years old, and I read a lot about American History, but I never knew the extent of service at Arlington National.”
Shaun painted me picture of the scene at the interment. “Honor guards were stationed around us. My parents’ ashes were placed on a podium. I had supplied a flag, and they conducted a ceremony where they unfolded the flag over the remains while the chaplain gave a eulogy. A traditional 21-gun salute followed, and then ‘Taps’ played. They folded the flag back up, and one of the honor guards came to me with the flag, and consoled me. As soon as he backed away, one of the Arlington Ladies handed me a handwritten note of condolence.”
Founded in 1948, the Arlington Ladies are a group of volunteers who all were either past servicewomen or who have lost a loved one at war. Their mission is to make sure that no one is buried alone. An Arlington Lady attends EVERY SINGLE FUNERAL at Arlington National Cemetery. And at the end of each funeral, one of the Ladies gives the next of kin a handwritten note. It is just such a lovely tradition.
Shaun was so touched by the Arlington Ladies that he’s decided to launch a special soap for his shop, the sales of which will benefit the Arlington Ladies organization. Currently he’s waiting on approval to use their logo on the soap, and as soon as that permission is granted, he’ll launch it to the public.
If you’ve never been to Atlantic Beach Soap Company, or it’s been a while since your last visit, definitely make a point to head over there this summer! Besides Shaun’s amazing-smelling handmade soaps and body products (I die for his coconut scent), he’s expanded the inventory into eclectic home goods and repurposed antiques. He also currently has three local artists, including Cynthia Dawley, who display their work in the store. And according to Shaun, “If I sell anything that is imported, it absolutely has to be fair trade.”
Be on the lookout for Sean’s new soap in the coming months! You can find Atlantic Beach Soap Company at 102 North Union Ave. in Cranford. Summer hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 11am to 6pm; Thursday-Friday 11am to 8pm; Saturday 11am to 6pm.