USA/Afghanistan — Defense Leaders, Karzai Honor Fallen Troops at Arlington

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2010 — Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, flanked by America’s top defense lead­ers, walked among the white mar­ble tomb­stones at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery today, a silent trib­ute to U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers who made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, many while bat­tling ter­ror­ism in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and John C. Metzler Jr.
Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, right, Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and John C. Met­zler Jr., super­in­ten­dent of Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, tour the cemetery’s Sec­tion 60, in Arling­ton, Va., May 13, 2010.
DoD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates; Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, the U.S. and NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan; Afghan Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak and oth­er offi­cials joined Karzai on a tour of the cemetery’s Sec­tion 60. This sec­tion, also known as the “sad­dest acre in Amer­i­ca,” is where many of the troops who died in sup­port of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are laid to rest.

Ear­li­er this morn­ing, sev­er­al peo­ple knelt in front of the tomb­stones to hon­or, and mourn, their fall­en loved ones. But the sec­tion was qui­et now, with only the foot­steps of these dis­tin­guished vis­i­tors and a plane fly­ing over­head break­ing the silence. Fresh, bright­ly col­ored flow­ers bunched at the foot of the tomb­stones pro­vid­ed the only evi­dence of recent vis­i­tors.

Karzai, Gates and Mullen walked slow­ly up a path between two rows of stones, guid­ed by ceme­tery super­in­ten­dent John C. Met­zler Jr. They paused for sev­er­al moments in front of Army Spc. Ross A. McGin­nis’ gravesite.

McGin­nis was posthu­mous­ly award­ed the Medal of Hon­or, the high­est U.S. dec­o­ra­tion for brav­ery, for his actions while serv­ing in Iraq. He was killed Dec. 4, 2006, while serv­ing as a gun­ner on a con­voy. He threw him­self on a grenade that was thrown into the Humvee he was rid­ing in, sav­ing the lives of his fel­low sol­diers. His gravesite was adorned with a wreath, and a small flag set at the base of the stone.

Far­ther down the row, the Afghan pres­i­dent paused before one grave in par­tic­u­lar, mark­ing a solemn trib­ute to one of the U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers who gave his life while serv­ing in Afghanistan. Army Pfc. Justin Ray Davis died near Afghanistan’s Kunar province on June 25, 2006, when he came in con­tact with indi­rect fire while on patrol. He was 19 years old. Karzai touched the col­ored stones that rest­ed on top of Davis’ grave­stone, a com­mon trib­ute to the fall­en at Arling­ton, and adjust­ed a pot of yel­low flow­ers set next to a pho­to of Davis in uni­form affixed to the stone. He con­tin­ued on, down one row and up anoth­er, exchang­ing words with Gates and Mullen, and paus­ing to read inscrip­tions such as the one on Davis’ grave­stone: “Lov­ing Son.”

This was Karzai’s first vis­it to Sec­tion 60, a ceme­tery spokes­woman not­ed, although it’s not his first to the ceme­tery.

Arling­ton is the bur­ial ground for 608 of the casu­al­ties from the cur­rent wars. Of those, 468 died in sup­port of Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom, and 140 in sup­port of Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom, the spokes­women said. Many of them are buried in Sec­tion 60 along­side the fall­en from old­er wars, includ­ing World War II, Korea and Viet­nam.

The Arling­ton vis­it was a solemn pause in the midst of a flur­ry of meet­ings and speech­es aimed at strength­en­ing the strate­gic part­ner­ship between the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan. Karzai and mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment will meet with U.S. offi­cials through tomor­row.

At the State Depart­ment on May 11, Karzai remarked on the progress made in Afghanistan, from edu­ca­tion and health to trans­porta­tion and the econ­o­my. He not­ed that none of it would have been pos­si­ble “with­out the sac­ri­fices of your sons and daugh­ters in Afghanistan, togeth­er with the Afghan peo­ple; and with­out your tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey spent in Afghanistan, togeth­er with the Afghan peo­ple.”

“I thank you,” he said, “and on behalf of the Afghan peo­ple, please do con­vey the grat­i­tude of our peo­ple to the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.”

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