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With a mower, a rake, and a shovel, he honors the nation’s war dead at this manicured cemetery

Groundskeeper performs his solemn duties with respect, dignity, and grace.

Ron Cormier, the grounds supervisor at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon, gathers up a torn flag as he oversees a group of volunteers who have come to place flags on the gravesites of veterans to mark Memorial Day.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

WINCHENDON — It’s a solemn and perfectly manicured place of bowed heads, beloved memories, and mournful, whispered prayers.

Across its emerald landscape there is an undulant sea of simple white religious symbols that mark the final resting place of those who served their country with honor and gallantry and an impressive blend of quiet patriotism.

Some died on foreign soil.

Some perished at sea.

Many came home after their service to buy homes, raise families, and form the sturdy foundation of a place called the American middle class.

The Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery here is their cathedral of sorts.

A holy place of heroes and men and women, many of whom — after their service — worked in factories, delivered the mail, nursed the sick, and paid tuition bills so their kids could have better lives than they did.

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It is also the workplace of Ron Cormier, the longtime grounds supervisor of this spectacular landscape, who has built a solid reputation as a man who understands the rigorous work ethic needed to make this final resting place worthy of the people interred here.

“He’s here early in the morning and many late evenings and weekends as needed,” said Richard Bastien, the cemetery director. “Ron has the attention to detail that is needed at a facility like this: Working with the staff. Laying out the headstones. And every one of those headstones is in line and perfectly addressed with the stone behind it. That is not easy to do.’’

Not easy to do. But something Cormier has accomplished since he was hired as a groundskeeper in the spring of 2001.

Cormier, 49, is the oldest of three children born to factory workers who built airplane parts at United Technologies in Windsor Locks, Conn.

After his graduation from South Hadley High School in 1992, he went to a trade school with the intention of becoming an automotive technician, something he did until he saw an opening at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam.

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After one false start, he was hired as a groundskeeper.

And, with that, a career was launched.

“I started a week before the first burial,’’ he told me. “The very first burial in Agawam.’’

That career is now beginning its 23rd year. That’s a long time meeting the unusual standards required at a place such as this.

“This isn’t a town cemetery or a church cemetery,’’ said Cormier, who transferred to Winchendon in 2004. “There is something different here. And that’s the standard that you’re expected to meet. We do things a certain way and the proof is out there.’’

It certainly is.

There is hardly a blade of grass out of place.

A small imperfection, an unusual patch of brown, is instantly addressed.

No detail is too small to ignore.

The watchword here is respect.

If you’ve ever witnessed a military funeral service it’s something you’re unlikely to forget. The ramrod-straight honor guard. The American flag folded into a tight triangle and solemnly presented to the family. The strains of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which in a funereal setting is profound and heart-breaking and an utterly appropriate final hymn.

Cormier has seen all of it and understands the dignity expected and required in a setting such as this one where there are now 4,000 headstones.

“We know what the mission is,’’ he said. “We want people to have a good experience here and know that their loved ones are in a place where they are going to be taken care of.’’

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So some of this work is personal for him.

“Before I worked here,” he said, “somebody was here to take care of us. Now, we’re here taking care of other veterans and families.

“Our hope is that when we pass, somebody will be there to take care of us. We do — gosh — up to six services a day here. We do up to 30 services a week here. How does it not become rote to you? Because we do a service at 9 o’clock in the morning and people are grieving a person who meant the world to them.

“And then we go to inter that person and we’ve got the next family coming at 10 o’clock. And that family doesn’t deserve any less compassion and understanding than the family at 9.’’

Across the years, Ron Cormier has witnessed grieving in all forms.

“There are plenty of people who come in weekly — sometimes daily,’’ he said. “We recognize their cars. We recognize the flowers that they leave. They’ll have a question. Next time you see them, it’s a wave and then it becomes a little more.

“Then they stop and want to see how you’re doing. There are plenty of people who will stop and want to talk.’’

And so Ron Cormier, the longtime grounds supervisor, pays dutiful attention and stops to chat.

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He knows that’s part of his job and a duty he performs with respect and dignity and uncommon grace.


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.