They stand in a tidy church graveyard in the main town of Ewell, adorned with U.S. flags and fresh wreaths, their shiny coatings a rebuke to the battering winds and rising tides. The headstones bear the surnames of Smith Island: Bradshaw, Somers, Evans, Corbin. Hardy stock, all. Their descendants are still there, sticking it out on Maryland’s last inhabited offshore Chesapeake Bay island, while dozens of other isles have succumbed to the seas.
On a sunny June day, a new name joined: Johnsen. Though he’d only lived on Smith for five years and hadn’t been back in some time, Roy Johnsen declared that this weathered watermen’s island was where he wanted to be buried. An idiosyncratic veteran of two wars, a pilot, a sailor and a humanitarian, he felt most at home right here.
“When he would come to the island, no matter how long it had been, people would say, ‘Hey, Roy, welcome home,’” said Pastor Rick Edmund after he had dug the small grave for Johnsen’s cremated remains. “I’m sure that feeling is one of the reasons he wanted to be buried here.”