One mother’s extraordinary mission to fulfill the last wishes of her veteran daughter to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery came to an extraordinary end last month. Longtime Oak Parker Julie Rutili called the years long journey to move daughter Pfc. Julieanne Shanahan to her final resting place, among thousands of fellow servicemen, “a series of small miracles.”
During her military career, Shanahan became the first woman to serve in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, also known as the Old Guard, which conducts military ceremonies at such venerable places as the White House, the Pentagon and other national memorials. She joined the 3rd Infantry only a year after enlisting.
“It was such an incredible celebration because she was the first woman and she was just so thrilled,” said Rutili.
Combining her love of journalism with her love of country, Shanahan worked as the regimental photojournalist and contributed to the military newspaper the Pentagram.
Following a cancer diagnosis and a review from the medical board, Shanahan, then 19, was retired from active service in 1996. Although her career was cut short, Shanahan was a decorated veteran, having received several military honors, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“I believe she would have been a career soldier,” her mother told Wednesday Journal. “She loved the structure, the discipline, the camaraderie, the support.”
After her retirement, Shanahan attended DePaul University, majoring in psychology. In 2002 at age 24, Shanahan died and was laid to rest. Her visitation was held at Dreschler, Brown and Williams funeral home in Oak Park, where she grew up.
It wasn’t until July 2017, long after Shanahan was laid to rest in St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, that Rutili learned her daughter had wished to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The four-year process to fulfill that wish, Rutili referred to as a “pilgrimage.”
The arduous and emotional process began in earnest shortly after, when Rutili reached out to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office later that month. To move her daughter, the attorney general needed Shanahan’s military records, her certificate of release from service and documentation that her death was service-related, which it was. Madigan’s office approved the request.
Rutili then went to Dreschler Brown, where she was informed that to disinter her daughter from a Catholic cemetery, a letter of approval was needed from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Rutili learned the Archdiocese seldom approves disinterment requests. Rutili’s was approved.
It then took almost two full years to complete the authorization permit form required by the city of Chicago; the permit was secured in October 2018.
Catholic Church protocol dictated that Shanahan’s disinterment couldn’t be scheduled from Nov. 1, 2018 until after April 29, 2019. Disinterment could also only occur on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
A number of scheduling errors complicated the process even further. In November 2019, the disinterment was postponed until after April 2020. Unbeknownst at the time to Rutili, COVID-19 would further delay Shanahan’s disinterment.
Throughout the journey, Rutili was treated to kindnesses, small and great, from people who had heard of her daughter’s military record and the great efforts Rutili was shouldering to see Shanahan got the burial she wanted. All appreciated, the kindnesses Rutili received ranged from old friends sharing a listening ear to complete strangers making financial donations to assist in the highly expensive mission. Veterans organizations and church groups all contributed to making the journey a little easier.
“These generous donations, I just thought, ‘God, thank you so much. I really don’t know how to thank you,’” said Rutili.
Finally, Shanahan was disinterred Nov. 17, 2020. Rutili then began interviewing funeral directors near Arlington, Va., settling on Cunningham Torch Funeral Home. Cunningham’s Kyle Nipper proved to be the hand Rutili and her other daughter, Luci, needed to help guide them through the remainder of the journey.
“Kyle is an excellent example of someone who helps make a devastating situation into
one that is filled with the highest level of compassionate care. He truly makes you
relaxed, calmer and able to deal with the devastating death of a loved one, especially a
child and sister,” Rutili wrote in her review of Cunningham.
With Nipper’s assistance, Rutili and Shanahan’s trip to Virginia came together in beautiful fashion. Rutili, escorting Shanahan’s casket on the flights to Virginia, was treated to honor guard processions, salutes and more.
“I really wanted to help her,” said Nipper of Rutili. “I did somethings for her family too. So that way, she knew her daughter’s sacrifices that she made for our country are appreciated.”
The appreciation for Shanahan’s sacrifices was felt deeply and displayed in a new way with every interaction since Nipper got involved.
“I was like Jackie Kennedy, First Lady – just unbelievable,” said Rutili.
The morning of Shanahan’s service at Arlington on Feb. 4, Rutili and Luci draped the American flag across Shanahan’s casket – a special final ritual for the family. The service included a motorcade; seven different honor guards gave Shanahan a full military farewell.
After the service, Rutili and Luci, both exhausted, shared a quiet moment of reflection to savor the moment, remember their journey and their deep, unconditional love for each other and Shanahan.
“My younger daughter and I held each other and just we’re so at peace that this was finally concluded, with all the honor and love that we could have ever imagined.”