We could hear, very faintly, the sound of taps.
The crowd was hardly breathing; as if breathing, alone, might drown out the sound of the bugle.
The President arrived on the stage without Ruffles and Flourishes. Mrs. Bush took her seat, without fanfare.
The crowd was silent.
This was not a ceremony of pomp and circumstance, nor an occasion for soaring rhetoric.
The President spoke, quietly, of sacrifice, and of duty, and of honor. He spoke of young men and young women who would never live out their lives. He spoke of the last kiss between a husband and his wife; the last wink and wisecrack of a brother to a sister as a train pulled out of a station; a father and son hugging for a final time at an airport.
Afterward, we stood at the Tomb of the Unknowns to watch the Changing of the Guard; that silent military ballet which takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Arlington National Cemetery, on Memorial Day, has nothing to do with the sweep and grandeur of history, nor the gigantic commitment of resources to battles and wars; nor grand strategies and brilliant tactics.
It is the place where - and the day when - we remember the individual men and women who were killed at Bull Run, and Belleau-Wood, at Pearl Harbor, and on Omaha Beach, and in Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and all the other un-locatable places with unpronounceable names where we have sent young men and women to fight and, too often, to die.
Arlington National Cemetery, on Memorial Day, has everything to do with a single white headstone nestled in a neat row among all the other white headstones next to it, in front of it, and behind it. Up hills and down swales.
It stands, along with the others, in silent acceptance of a nation's gratitude.
We had paused at the white headstone. One among a quarter of a million. The one with the words:
United States Air Force
World War II
Flags in hand, in the wet grass, on a gray morning of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, we once again paid our respects to her dad.
And prayed, silently, that he, in the company of his comrades, rest.
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