The remains of over 400,000 servicemen and women, veterans and their families are laid to rest on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. This national treasure sits not five miles from my childhood home, yet I’ve probably visited less than a dozen times. I wanted to mark this Memorial Day in a special way, so I decided to brave the crowds and pay my respect to those who have served and sacrificed.
I have no family buried here. I have no friends buried here. But I do know men and women whose names will one day — in the distant future, God willing — be engraved into white granite here. I am more proud of my friends who have served and serve still than I can possibly express. I am a better man for putting myself in their company.
I happened across this stone that took my breath for a moment. The sheer number of graves here makes it too easy to lose sight of the individuals. Countless white markers spread across hundreds of acres, like flag-adorned whitecaps on a rolling, green sea. Heroes from a vague past, fallen in a strange land. I don’t know the story of TEC5 T.J. Carona, just what I can glean from the inscription. A soldier, a Tech Corporal in World War II, T.J. made it home safely to his family. He had a life beyond his service before the war, and after. And in the spring of 1955, he and his wife lost a daughter they had known only for a day. And the stone next to this one has a story too, and the next stone over from that. And when you start thinking of all the stories, the lives, the deaths, the weight of this place pushes down on you like water.
But for all the weight pushing down, it is somehow an uplifting place as well. Honor, respect and meticulous ceremony are all around you. People young and old, rich and poor, from near and far gravitate here. Yes, the calendar told many of us this is a weekend we should honor those who rest here. But that’s why we mark these occasions with holidays, so we won’t forget. And there were thousands of people here today, not forgetting. And that’s enough to restore a little faith in humanity for even the most cynical among us. (Hint: I am the most cynical among us.)
Here Rests in Honored Glory, An American Soldier, Known But to God.
The Memorial Amphitheater was off limits when I was there, in preparation for ceremonies tomorrow. But I stole a few glimpses.
“When we assumed the soldier we did not lay aside the citizen.” From then-General George Washington’s June 26, 1775, letter to the Provincial Congress. Above the stage, from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
The landscape is dotted with monuments, memorials and trees honoring individuals or events in our history. I let myself get too wrapped up in trying to photograph this one to take the time to read and remember the plaque thereon.
There are rows upon rows of these undated, unnamed markers. I wonder if anyone attended these funerals. After a hundred years of wind and rain have worn the letters smooth, it feels like the universe is trying so hard to forget these men. Rest in Peace, Unknown U.S. Soldier.
I pondered the grave of Private Michael Burns for quite a while. In the time it took for this tree to take hold, flourish and adopt this rock as its own — and of course it is but a rock to a tree — I can only imagine his casket beneath, eternally embraced by a tangle of ancient oak roots. I don’t think it’s sad. I think instead it’s kind of comforting.
Before I left Arlington there was one more stop I needed to make. The United States Marine Corps War Memorial depicts the iconic scene from Iwo Jima in 1945 and stands “In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.”
Some of the most incredible people I have ever met in my life are Marines. I will not single out my friends here but you know who you are. Oorah!
Most people, I imagine, have seen photos of this memorial. In person, it is impressive. The figures are 32 feet high, and are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The entire memorial is almost 80 feet tall.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” ― Ronald Reagan
I am lucky to live within easy driving distance of places that commemorate those who have given their lives in service to this nation, defending and protecting all I hold dear. And I hope my friends near and far find your own way to take time this Memorial Day to think about all the lives lost. God bless them all, and give us the resolve to never, ever, forget.
May 25, 2014 | Categories: America, Friends, Love, Memorial Day, Photography, Virginia | Tags: Arlington National Cemetary, Civil War, Gold Star, grave, hallowed ground, Korean War, Marine Corps Memorial, Memorial, Memorial Day, Photography, Purple Heart, servicemen, servicewomen, USMC, Vietnam War, World War I, World War II | 10 Comments »