Salena Zito

ARLINGTON, Va. — Lyle Smith sat in a wheelchair on the grounds of the national cemetery, not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns.

"I never imagined there would be so many headstones," he said, looking out over the green rolling hills covered with snow-white markers.

Smith was born seven years after the "War to End All Wars" ended; less than 20 years later, he left his family's homestead in Columbus, Wis., as a volunteer to serve his country in another world war.

Except for time spent in the European theater, he never ventured far from Wisconsin; he married Shirley and they had a son and daughter, each of whom also had a son and daughter, and those four grandchildren each had a son and daughter as well.

"I've led a good life," Smith, 87, said. "I've worked hard, I've loved my family."

He made a living as a skilled carpenter and now volunteers at a senior center. He remains fiercely proud of his military service.

Smith struggled to find words to describe how he felt about being where former comrades are buried alongside soldiers from every U.S. conflict going back to the Civil War.

"It's overwhelming," he said. "And I think back to our very first war, our Revolution and those freedom fighters, and I have to thank all of them. Without every one of them, I would not be here."

One such freedom fighter was Frederick Hain of Berks County, Pa.

His father, John Henry Hain, took him and his brothers, Adam, Daniel and Joseph, to enlist to "fight for freedom." Father and sons reported to a friend, Daniel Broadhead, who -- because of his bravery in the beginning battles of the American Revolution -- had just been made a colonel in the Colonial army by Gen. George Washington.

Family and church records note that John Henry Hain was a "staunch patriot" and a "fanatic in the cause of freedom." It took some persuasion, but Broadhead finally convinced the elder Hain not to enlist with his sons, saying: "It is a shame to suffer so old a man to perform the arduous duties of a soldier."

Frederick Hain quickly rose to the rank of sergeant -- probably not too difficult, since soldiers in that army of farmers deserted with shocking frequency for reasons ranging from harvest duties to disenchantment, starvation and other horrid conditions faced by the rag-tag force.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.