Reflections on a Visit to Arlington Cemetery

I’ve always felt Arlington Cemetery – located just across the river from our Nation’s capital – was a sacred place. I am always moved by the perennial stories that come with each major storm, detailing the unwavering commitment of the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unkown Solider. These mostly 20-somethings show commitment beyond personal understanding or experience. As the son of a lifetime Army Officer I have always internalized their abiding respect for duty and honor.

Long the final resting spot for the axiomatic American Solider since May 13, 1864, when William Christman became the first military burial to take place there. It is fitting that each day the sun must cross Arlington Cemetery before setting on Washington, DC – long viewed as the Capitol of the free world.

I was last in Arlington Cemetery nearly a year ago when we buried my father there. I’ve been meaning to go back since, but have been anxious. Perhaps irrationally anxious, but anxious nonetheless. Some find personal peace in a cemetery, but I was sure no peace awaited me there. In December I was planning to participate in Wreaths Across America, but in the end decided I just wasn’t quite ready. I thought it could become a tradition. Perhaps one that starts next year. The one time I did try to go visit Arlington, it was closed because of a big snow storm. I was comforted knowing a few 20-somethings were still diligently at work showing their respect a few hundred yards from the closed fence that lay in front of me.

My father died on February 27, 2013- a year ago today. I didn’t think the day would hit me quite as hard as it did, but as I drove into the office at 5:30AM this morning I found myself breaking down in tears while listening to Tupac’s Life Goes On and I knew then it was going to be a long day. The irony of course is that my dad was never much of a rap fan.

My dad went into the hospital on February 14th, 2013 and two difficult weeks followed with what seemed like ups and downs, but in reality were probably just filled with downs. I’m convinced February 27 was “his day” and he held on to make it to “his day.” My dad’s mother died on February 27th, 1983 and before that his father died on February 27th, 1960. I’m a stats guy.  The probability of this happening is 0.00000205647 percent. But then again, life always has a way of dishing up low probability events.

My dad was a soldier’s soldier.  He always felt most at home with “the boys.” And so it is probably fitting that he is buried in Section 60 of Arlington. Among Extortion 17 and others who gave their last breath defending our freedom.