Rich Galen

The President placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns which is located to the rear of the Amphitheater on a large, elevated deck, out of our sight.

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.

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 a last kiss between a husband and his wife; of a last wink and wisecrack of a brother to a sister as a train pulled out of a station; of a father and his 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; the silent military ballet which takes place there 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 a place where - and the day when - we remember the individual men and women who were killed at Bull Run, and Belleau-Wood, at Iwo Jima, on Omaha Beach, and in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and all the other un-locatable places with unpronounceable names where we have too often 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.

Having found it, we paused at the one white headstone. The one among a quarter of a million. The one with the words carved upon it:

John Hugh Curran
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, here in the company of his comrades, rest.

In peace.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at