I Learned The Ideal Of Remembrance At Arlington National Cemetery

I Learned The Ideal Of Remembrance At Arlington National Cemetery

Acknowledging and remembering the sacrifice of our troops is a worth while endeavor.

103
views

The clanking metro train came to a halt. "Now arriving at Arlington National Cemetery," the prerecorded voice announced over the intercom. As my family and I exited the train, a sweeping, cold wind rushed across our faces, a usual welcome from all the underground stations in D.C. I looked at the ceiling of the station curving to meet the dark grey walls. One moment, I was viewing beautiful Greek architecture at the national mall; the next, I was in an enclosing chasm of ugly stone. The sound of the screeching track blared in my ears.

The exit to the surface level was a huge escalator that climbed to the top for air. When we reached the top, I braced myself for the thoughts and emotions that were about to swim inside me. I had never been to Arlington before that day. The names and faces of family and friends who were in the military rested in my mind—not many years older than my age of 17 when they enlisted. I was ready to recognize their sacrifice through this place.

After sauntering through security, we walked through the welcome center and headed for the cemetery. It wasn't too long until we reached the rows upon rows of gravestones, each marking the courage and bravery of that person. As we trudged up a slight hill, I read the names of the gravestones.

When we hear about how many people died in a war, we only think about the number, and hardly about the individual lives of each person. When I read the names, it would sometimes say that they were a father and husband, what branch of the military they were part of, and the year they were born and the year they passed. This information, even if it seems so little, individualizes the men buried there. Every human is an individual. I thought of my aunt's dad who fought in the Korean War and my great grandfather who was a glider pilot for the Royal Air Force during WW2. The people buried here had a life and family like my relatives.

Signs were strewn across path reading, "Please be quiet. Show respect."And everyone was quiet. In fact, it was the quietest place in D.C. Everything was still. The trees slowly swayed in the wind like they too were turning to view the graves. The only thing I could hear were respectful whispers and singing birds.

I spotted a sign pointing to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The path was downhill with uneven steps. The trees cast shadows over the trail and graves, giving shade to the fallen heroes and their visitors. As we descended, a large group of people walked in front of us, but all we could hear were the footsteps upon the stone. The silence was carried everywhere we went.

This silence left room in my mind for my great grandfather. What was going through his mind in the early morning hours of D-day? Was everyone silent just like this place when they boarded the glider plane? As I looked at the gravestones, I thought of his burial site in France where his glider crashed that day so long ago. His sacrifice weighed heavy on my mind.

When we finally reached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we searched for a place to sit so we could watch the changing of the guard. We joined a crowd of solemn people sitting on the steps facing the tomb and the focused guard. Just over the trees and across the Potomac River, I could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. The afternoon sun animated the structures.

At that moment, the next guard and a sergeant walked out with their posture straight up. Everyone sitting rose up in unison. The sergeant ordered us to remain quiet and show respect during the ceremony.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, what you are about to witness is the changing of the guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," he began triumphantly. After his brief speech, he walked over to the two guards and started the change. Multiple orders later, the new guard took his place and carried the symbolism and responsibility every previous guard held.

These guards deeply understood their role better than any of us in the audience. Brown stains on the stone displayed where and how long these men had guarded the tomb. The tomb of a man that was alive before them, of a man that they didn't personally know, and of a man of whom no one knows the name or story. But the man in that tomb sacrificed everything for the values of freedom and liberty.

Sitting there watching the ceremony, I realized that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents every unknown soldier buried somewhere. That even though we don't know the identity of the soldier, he still deserves the praise and respect the identified soldiers get. Giving this one unknown soldier a sacred tomb honors and individualizes people we can't identify who were killed or missing in action. That is why the tomb is guarded 24/7 through hurricanes and blizzards— to honor every man who laid down their lives for the freedom of others.

Continuing back to the welcome center, I heard those respectful whispers once again. The thought of my family members who served came back to me. What stories did they have about their time in the military? My aunt recently took her father to the Korean War Memorial. I imagined his reaction when seeing it, the memories flying through his head.

We went back down the tall escalator to get to our metro train. As we waited for a few minutes, the dirty stone, the loud sounds, and the uneasy smells of the metro station didn't cross my mind. All I could think about were the thousands of men and women's selfless actions for the principles of freedom and liberty and my family members' sacrifice for those principles.

If there is one word to describe Arlington National Cemetery, it is sobering. We should sacrifice the time to visit these graves because they sacrificed their lives so we can have that time.

Popular Right Now

An Open Letter To Those Who Forget Those Who Fought For Us All

We would not have the freedom to create what we love without them.

185
views

Without the bravery of millions of men and women throughout US history, many of us would not be sitting at our laptops reading or even creating free expressions of ourselves.

We might not be able to walk across campus without fear for our lives. Without the sacrifice of those who served, the great country we call home would not even be a reality. Whether we know them personally or not, the American people owe every ounce of freedom that we enjoy to the veterans who fought to preserve it.

For the soldiers who made it home again, the physical war was over, but the mental war was just beginning. And what makes it worse is that they cannot identify the enemy. There is no battle plan, no intended mission, and no officer leading them through the fray; they are alone, and cannot find the enemy to face in the shadows.

Veterans come home with so many different battle scars; some as obvious as a missing limb, and others so invisible that no one realizes that they are there until it is too late. Mental illness and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) plague returning soldiers and make it almost impossible for them to assimilate back into their own families, let alone society.

There is a toxic mentality that is all too popular in the military that tries to say that PTSD is for the weak and feeble-minded. Sometimes serving for years in foreign lands, some soldiers claim that any form of weakness gets you killed or captured on the battlefield. Coming home with this same mentality creates a toxic environment in which veterans refuse to seek help and the nightmares that they endured overseas haunt them until they cannot take it anymore.

There were soldiers that did not make it home at all, and some that were carried off planes in a box draped in the flag of their beloved country. Many of those who died did so to give their friends the chance to see the home and the families that they themselves would never lay eyes on again. They did not die just for their friends to come home to sleep on benches, having been kicked out of their houses or unable to hold a job. They did not die for their friends to come home only to put a needle to their arm, a bottle to their lips, or a pistol to their head.

Every day, 22 veterans and active-duty soldiers commit suicide. That means approximately every 65 minutes, a veteran has taken his or her life somewhere in the United States, the country that forgot them after they gave up so much for it. This statistic is inexcusable for our nation, and in other areas, the bar is just as low.

The vets with physical wounds alongside their mental ones who seek help must yet again face another battle; this time being with the healthcare system and all of its heavy expenses.

They usually get bags of over-prescribed drugs thrown at them as well as opioids rather than the physical and mental therapy that they need and deserve. The drugs turn the veterans into addicts, and as the pain continues to intensify on both the physical and mental fronts, they take more and more to numb the pain. This way, many reach overdose, and even death.

Mental illness, PTSD, lack of adequate treatment, and physical impairment all make it practically impossible for a soldier to get and keep a job, which could start a downward spiral into homelessness.

Despite the efforts that government organizations such as the Veterans Affairs have set in motion, the programs implemented have had minimal effect upon the crisis at hand. With a broken system and so many odds stacked against them, so many veterans have lost faith in the country that they fought so hard for, the same country that left them to their own nightmares in the alleyways and dark corners of cities. This is a humanitarian crisis that defines who we are as a nation.

I understand that many people may call a different crisis to mind that they think should take priority over getting these heroes off the streets. However, without all the sacrifices that the millions who served have made to protect America and everything it stands for, most other issues in this country would not even be plausible, let alone resolvable. This country is a beacon of hope to the world, and so many risks their own lives as well as their children's to come here. But without those who protected our liberty, there would be no liberty to flock to.

I want to imagine a United States that successfully integrates veterans back into society, that has the programs and the willpower to get them back on their feet and out of the shadows of the horrors they faced overseas.

But more than that, I want to imagine an American people that turn around to help pay the debt that those who fought for our freedom never asked us to repay. Because after all, freedom isn't free.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

If You Are Looking For A Way To Support Veterans, Consider Honor Flight

Honor Flight is a great organization that gives veterans the support and recognition they deserve.

89
views

A World War II veteran sits on a bus, unable to move, overtaken by emotions. He's not sure he can face the task at hand. The memories of the day he lost his arm overwhelm him. He has never been able to talk about it. Suddenly, other veterans surround him. They urge him to brave the Iwo Jima memorial, the battle where he was wounded. Encouraged yet nervous, he leaves the bus and visits the memorial. As he gazes at the site, he finally has begun to gain closure about his experiences. This story is what Honor Flight represents.

Honor Flight Network, an all-volunteer charitable organization, provides a valuable service to elderly U.S. veterans by giving them a free trip to the Washington D.C. war memorials. These flight missions are carried out by 130 regional hubs across the country. In 2018, they transported 20,958 veterans.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. The World War II memorial was opened in 2004. By then, a lot of the veterans had grown older and had become physically and financially incapable of going to their own memorial. Before the memorial was finished, many veterans weren't getting the honor they deserve. Honor Flight seeks to address both of these issues by making their main objective giving World War II heroes the honor they deserve before they all leave their country.

The details of each trip vary from group to group across the nation, but the main focus is visiting the memorials. The following is an example of a typical trip. The first day is an orientation where the guardians and veterans meet together. Honor Flight gives preference to veteran applicants in the following order: veterans who are terminally ill, those who served in World War II, Korean War veterans, and more recently, Vietnam War veterans. A Guardian is a volunteer, sometimes family, who travels with the veterans to watch over them and help them with any needs.

Four trained paramedics travel with them on every flight. On the actual day of the flight, they meet at the airport early in the morning and go through security together. They receive breakfast at the gate and board the Southwest airplane. As the plane rolls down the runway, firetrucks line up and shoot a water cannon salute over the plane. They fly to Washington D.C. and exit the plane to a military receiving line. Volunteers guide them through the airport to the busses that will take them to their war memorials. Once they are loaded on the busses, police officers ride alongside the bus and escort them to their first stop, the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. The next three memorials they visit are Women in Service, Iwo Jima, which highlights the marines, and the Air Force Memorial.

After lunch, the veterans are taken to the World War II memorial, the highlight of the trip. Sometimes, members of Congress and local TV stations are there to honor and meet the veterans. At times, World War II re-enactors are present at the memorial to interact and thank the veterans for their service. The reenactors spark the memories of the veterans, reminding them of when they were younger and what life was like in the 1940s. Then, they all then take a group picture and afterward go to the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and their final stop, the Korean War Memorial. When it is over, they all board the buses that will take them back to the airport. The quiet mood in the busses provides the veterans with a time of recollection.

Before getting on the plane, letters expressing thanks and honor from people, such as family and friends, are given to the veterans. When they return to their hometown, the veterans are greeted with signs of thanks and a huge crowd thanks them and honors them, while music plays.

The reactions of the veterans are very solemn. When they look upon the memorials, they become very silent and shed some tears as they reflect on past memories. Many of the veterans have to be convinced to come on the flights because they don't think they deserve it, but once they are there, they form bonds with the other veterans and guardians. Visiting these memorials gives them the closure they need to handle their experiences in the war. Being around people who have shared the same feelings allows them to tell stories about their time in the war. Many veterans feel honored in a way they never felt before. Also, they are able to grieve for their fellow friends who died in battle.

One veteran, who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, was given a day off from his duties on the ship. While he was gone, another soldier took his place. Later, the boat was destroyed, and everyone on it was killed. At the memorial, this veteran found the name of his replacement on the wall and rubbed an imprint of the name on a piece of paper. Nancy Riordan, an active member of Honor Flight of Central Florida, explained, "we believe our Veterans have honored us with their service, and it is our mission to honor them."

In Orlando, where I live, veterans travel with Honor Flight of Central Florida. Their website will connect you with fundraising events and upcoming flight information. If you are interested in welcoming the veterans back from their trip, the 2019 spring flight dates are May 4th and June 15th. Fall flight dates will be announced at a later date. My family and I have participated in the past, and it was great seeing the smiles on the veterans' faces. My aunt took her dad on an Honor Flight mission in Colorado, and I wrote letters for their mail call.

As Harry S. Truman said in his address to Congress in 1945, "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."

Related Content

Facebook Comments