Editor's note: This is the 12th anniversary of this edition of Mullings which was first written for Memorial Day, 2001 - four months before 9/11. Our son, Reed, was a member of the team in charge of President George W. Bush's visit to Arlington Memorial Cemetery on that day.
"Because of your selfless acts,
we stand in the capitals
of those who would do our citizens harm."
Col. Michael Ceroli,
Ft. Bragg, NC
We went to Arlington National Cemetery to attend the annual Memorial Day observance.
The entrance to Arlington National Cemetery is directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. These two historical, mystical, sites are connected by the Memorial Bridge.
At the entrance to the Cemetery there is a sign which asks visitors to keep in mind the true nature of this place:
Welcome to Arlington National Cemetery
America's most sacred shrine.
These are hallowed grounds.
The Mullings Director of Standards & Practices and I made our way up and down the curving walkways, past the small groups of school-aged children and their chaperones listening to docents working to inspire groups of students.
We passed rows and rows of American flags which had been placed in the ground in front of each and every headstone. There are over a quarter of a million heroes buried at Arlington.
Generals and privates. Admirals and seamen.
Each headstone gets its own flag.
Each flag, the same size.
Each life, the equal of every other.
We walked the familiar grounds, grass wet from days of thunder storms, the morning still cloudy and threatening. Having found what we were looking for, we paused and reflected.
Entering the Amphitheater we each took one of the small American flags which were being handed out by elderly vets and read the line from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address inscribed above the stage:
"We, here, highly resolve
that those dead
shall not have died in vain."
On cue, the Air Force Band and Chorus began to perform.
On cue, the sun peeked out.
Off in the distance, there was a barked order followed by the report of a cannon, then another order, another report. Twenty-one times; announcing the arrival of the Commander-in-Chief on the grounds.
During it all, the crowd stood silently.
At the playing of the National Anthem, military personnel snapped a salute, civilians put hands on hearts.