» Memorial Dispatches from the Potomac

Words and Images from Ed Felker

Posts tagged “Memorial

Here.

The moment the camera shutter closed on this image from the banks of the Rose River might just be when it all started.

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My friend Douglas casts for trout as the sun sinks low in the November sky. A warm day. A cold beer. An azure blue sky reflected in water interrupted only by a series of circles reaching out to Douglas from its source: A dog.

It was there, and it was then, that I first observed my friend and his dog Enzo, a lanky young Spinone Italiano. I watched Enzo explore that farm, chasing birds and sniffing trails and running and running and running. I saw the freedom given him by Douglas to roam, and the discipline given him to faithfully return with a simple command. “Here.”

Faithful. This, I thought, is what I want.

Although my wife and I had moved to a rural area, we still lived in a house on a main road with a yard. We were surrounded by country, but not yet immersed in it. So it was just a fantasy, to have a dog that roamed the property, never too far to hear my call. But my next dog, while not a Spinone, did have a beard and bird hunting in her veins like Enzo. Over time, Winnie’s beard grew, but the bird hunting in her veins faded, and that’s alright. We did get that place in the country where dogs can run free, though.

Enzo went on to be a fixture at the farm, and in the life of my friend. They hunted together, fished together and traveled together. I was privileged to take a few long road trips with Douglas and Enzo, to hunt grouse and woodcock in the dense woods of Michigan and Maine. Enzo earned the sleep he soaked in on those return trips.

But the farm is where Enzo was truly at home. When Winnie was a puppy, Enzo showed her how to run off leash for the first time. When I added Finn a couple years later, Enzo showed him how to find a chukar at a nearby preserve. Finn and Enzo were two peas in a pod. Tall, dorky, sweet as molasses and just smelly enough one could convincingly blame the other. They napped in front of that big, hot, stone fireplace after a day of running like there’s no tomorrow.

And once in every life, there really is no tomorrow. And sometimes you never see it coming. It’s almost impossible to believe that Enzo is gone. That he has pointed his last bird, lapped up his last cool drink from the gin clear Rose. And it feels like I owe him something. And it feels like I owe my friend something too. The two of them showed me what that relationship between man and dog could be. My pair roams the property now, never too far they can’t be called in. They explore scent trails, kick up birds, point rabbits and roll in God knows what. And when I’m out mowing or trimming or repairing a fence or walking in the woods or fishing in my home river, they are by my side. And when I say “Here,” there they are. Faithful. Having dogs that have earned the freedom to roam off leash has been, well, I simply can’t overstate the peace and enjoyment it has brought me.

My heart aches for my friend. To me, Enzo has always been a part of Douglas, a part of Rose River Farm. And in a way he always will be. But he will also be a part of me and the life I have built with my dogs. I can’t ever repay a gift like that.

Rest in peace, Enzo. I hope where you are there are countless wild birds, endless cool mornings and open fields that stretch forever. And at the end, a warm fire by which to rest. Hunt hard, sleep deeply. There are no more commands, you’re already here.

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Some Gave All

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Here Rests in Honored Glory, An American Soldier, Known But to God.

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The Memorial Amphitheater was off limits when I was there, in preparation for ceremonies tomorrow. But I stole a few glimpses.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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“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

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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.


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