"I'll miss him for 40 years." she said, echoing the words of a Vietnam War mother she had spoken to.
You see many there... one man, lying on the grave of his loved one, his hand on the headstone. Two mothers walk together, visiting separate graves..one said touching the engraving of her son's name makes him closer. A man sits, holding two beers, sipping his, pouring the other on the grave of his 22 year old brother in law. A soldier, who came home from a tour in Iraq...her husband left for that same place three months later, dying there. Mothers, fathers, spouses, children... they all know each other, talking, sharing stories... struggling to come to grips with the reason for the white headstone, one of many that stretch out for an acre or so in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
There are stones resting on headstones, set there to let families know someone has been to site, it represents permanence. Photos, cards and pictures drawn by children rest against the headstones, flowers abound. Tears were heavy, delicate... held back.
HBO has a special on this month, "Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery", and, it's something we should all watch. It speaks of those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in this foolish war we are embroiled in right now.
All of these young men and women.... their families drawn there, some saying they do not visit parent's graves, yet, they can't stop coming here. One woman moved herself and her children to the area in order to be close to the place where her husband now lies... It is December, and she walks with her daughter, both of them putting candy canes on headstones that each bear a wreath, saying a "Merry Christmas" to each. Her youngest child never met her father, and knows him only as memories and a headstone. Families leave flowers, gifts, and always, always the tears.
Those that have loved ones there are like a large, loosely joined family. A new grave with it's mourners will draw others over, to console, to hold...knowing the pain, understanding the grief. As a group speaks of their loved ones, you hear taps playing, 21 guns going off and they look over, watching in silence as another joins the those already there, in the ground.
The headstones are white, pure, kept clean by the staff on carefully mowed ground. They march in those perfect rows, giving a sense of odd beauty to this place of sorrow.. The ancient home of Jefferson Davis, turned in to a memorial for the dead to prevent him from returning after the War Between the States..comprised of rolling soft hills, deep green grass and all of those headstones. I remember visiting there, as a kid... being surprised when my father grabbed my shoulder, told me to be quiet... there, just below us, was a funeral in progress. It was the end of Vietnam, he was one of those last few soldiers who died there. The family in their chairs, the guns going off, the notes of 'Taps', so unique in it's sad story, were played. We stood, my father in a straight Marine stance, saluting... the rest of the family with our hands over our hearts, offering our respect. Yes, it's a beautiful, beautiful place, full of hills and grass and headstones and flowers and stones. Full of lost dreams, lost loved ones...
Full of sorrow.
I do not know how I would go on, losing my child. Would I pack it all inside, as I'm prone to do... would I be like the mother who spread her coat on the grave in December, because she knew her son hated the cold, wanting to give him warmth for just a little while. Another sang a lullaby, her voice soft and breaking. Both were doing what you do as a parent, soothing your child, comforting. I know, like them, I'd never be the same...the emptiness, the knowledge I'd be missing him for so, so long... facts that might break me. My child dying so far away from home, for a reason I cannot support.
Why? I never understand why. With a son in the Marines, I am torn... I do not support this war, I feel Bush is a war criminal. I do support fully the troops that are there. I an angry we are in those places, wasting money, materials...destroying lives, precious lives on both sides, American military, the innocent civilians who don't want us there. Destroying families left behind. Someone I read, and like, is Greg. He was a Marine, for over 10 years. His experiences are his to tell...know they squeezed my heart. In response to a letter I'd sent him about this whole thing, he put so beautifully how I, too, feel about this, about these filled graves:
Do I think they died in vain? No, I don't. They died doing their job. They died fulfilling their enlistment oath. When people like McCain insinuate that our kids WILL have died in vain if we leave Iraq that infuriates me. He is not only dishonoring their service by making their sacrifice conditional, but dishonoring the oath he himself took and his own sacrifices he made in the Hanoi Hilton.No, I'm not sure how I could go on... I pray I will never, ever know. I pray that soon, no one will ever have to know that again. I only believe we shouldn't have to have any more go into that Section. Into any section, as a death caused by war. That special.. this post are dedicated to all of those who have died for their country....
....and to those they leave behind.