Commentary: Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2010 — Vis­it­ing Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery on an ordi­nary day makes the day itself extra­or­di­nary. It is a place that impos­es its own mood: reflec­tive, sweet­ly melan­cholic, unabashed­ly patri­ot­ic.
Rank upon rank of small white cross­es stand among gen­tly rolling, green hills. Old Guard sol­diers, solemn and remote, end­less­ly pace a slow and cer­e­mo­ni­al vig­il before the nation’s entombed and revered dead.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is here, as is the tomb­stone of heavy­weight cham­pi­on and Army vet­er­an Joe Louis. Ira Hayes’ grave is there, and Lee Marvin’s. The last Buf­fa­lo Sol­dier and a young woman killed in the Vir­ginia Tech shoot­ings — the daugh­ter of vet­er­ans — also rest here.

On Vet­er­ans Day, Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery is the military’s sacred grove, its place of deep­est mys­tery. On this day above all oth­ers, peo­ple seem drawn to its sanc­ti­ty.

Thou­sands of vis­i­tors speak­ing every lan­guage under the sun pass through Arlington’s gates on Nov. 11. This year, as a for­mer sol­dier and the wife and daugh­ter of sol­diers, I gath­ered my small courage to come here to hon­or the fall­en.

Each Vet­er­ans Day, an Amer­i­can leader places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns to hon­or America’s vet­er­ans and ser­vice­mem­bers who have died in com­bat. Today, hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered at the tomb, the heart of Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, in the hour before the cer­e­mo­ny.

Dot­ted through the diverse crowd were white-haired vet­er­ans in their ser­vice caps and men and women in uni­forms –- and in wheel­chairs. Patient­ly and qui­et­ly, adults, teenagers and small chil­dren watched and wait­ed. The Old Guard sol­diers paced.

Black wool over­coats rubbed shoul­ders with leather bik­er jack­ets, and red pumps stood next to run­ning shoes. Apart from an occa­sion­al mur­mur from the scores of solemn spec­ta­tors lin­ing the steps, the only sounds were the whis­per of falling leaves and the crisp crack of brass heel plates as the hon­or guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns paced off the mea­sured move­ments of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry’s vig­il.

At 11 a.m., Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, accom­pa­nied by Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, com­man­der of the U.S. Army Mil­i­tary Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton, walked into the space where nor­mal­ly only the guards may enter.

It is a silent cer­e­mo­ny. Hon­or guards from each ser­vice slow-march into posi­tion before the wreath is placed. They are resplen­dent in dress uni­forms — dis­ci­plined, solemn, young, all races, both sex­es, all ser­vices, com­plete­ly mag­nif­i­cent.

Except for the com­mands of their lead­ers and the announce­ment of the offi­cial party’s arrival, there is no speech. Speech­es will fol­low, away from the tomb, but with­in that space so rev­er­ent­ly, so cer­e­mo­ni­al­ly guard­ed, there is no room for talk.

Biden moved for­ward and set the cer­e­mo­ni­al wreath in place. He stepped back and placed his hand over his heart as the pierc­ing bugle notes of “Taps” float­ed through the chilly, sun­lit air.

Through­out the year, Amer­i­cans old and new come to Arling­ton, per­haps, because Arling­ton holds some­thing of all Amer­i­cans.

The graves belong to vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. But those vet­er­ans were part of, not apart from, their coun­try. Like today’s vet­er­ans, like today’s ser­vice­mem­bers –- like so many in today’s Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion — they were humans called to some­times super­hu­man effort.

Ear­li­er this week, a sergeant-turned-entre­pre­neur told me he believes Amer­i­cans sim­pli­fy our vet­er­ans as either vic­tims or heroes. Vet­er­ans are peo­ple, Zack Bazzi said, and they are as com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted as any oth­er peo­ple.

I believe Zack is right. He was speak­ing to me at a vol­un­teer event with oth­er vet­er­ans. They were build­ing a house, and there was sweat, dirt, laugh­ter and talk of beer.

It’s pos­si­ble that Arlington’s secret is that it shows both sides of those who rest here.

These men and women sim­ply were ordi­nary peo­ple who chose to serve in the armed forces of our coun­try. Many of those resplen­dent young men and women at Arling­ton yes­ter­day — and the gen­er­als too, most like­ly — went home last night and watched tele­vi­sion, read a bed­time sto­ry or walked the dog.

Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery is a mil­i­tary place. The U.S. mil­i­tary is an Amer­i­can insti­tu­tion. Part of us is in it -– a son or daugh­ter, niece or nephew, father or moth­er — and it is part of us. It is part of our his­to­ry, part of our lega­cy as Amer­i­cans, a sym­bol of our nation­al grief and our nation­al strength.

A mil­i­tary funer­al here is imbued with a weight of dig­ni­ty, of pro­found sor­row for a broth­er or sis­ter in arms. Vis­it­ing the ceme­tery to say good­bye to a friend or loved one brings an added dimen­sion to the pro­found and dread­ed act of griev­ing a death.

It offers a glimpse, even to those who have nev­er served, of the sim­ple but mys­te­ri­ous bonds –- tru­ly the bonds of a fam­i­ly — root­ed deep in the heart of those who wear or have worn the nation’s uni­form.

Next year, I hope to be among the vis­i­tors at Arling­ton on Vet­er­ans Day once again. I’ll bring my daugh­ters, and I hope they’ll share the awe that I felt here on Vet­er­ans Day 2010.

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →