When I lived in Hawaii my family visited Punchbowl National Cemetery to see where my grandfather’s high school buddy was buried. He was killed in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. As a child I had two thoughts that day. It was taking a long time to find his grave simply because it was a sea of stones and I remember thinking at the time, I wonder if his family wanted him buried here, so far from home. Did his loved ones ever see his grave?
We can comprehend the price of liberty in the thousands of American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen buried far from home across seas and continents. One of these men, buried at Normandy, is medal of honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. After receiving two denials to land with his men in the first assault waves at Normandy, he was finally granted permission to storm the beaches with his men on D-Day.
Courageous to an almost absurd degree, Roosevelt had a serious heart condition and walked with a cane. The only general to land in the first wave at Normandy, General Omar Bradley later said of Roosevelt’s actions on the beach that day, “It was the greatest single act of courage I witnessed in the war.”
His father, President Theodore Roosevelt, cited courage and honor as being among the chief virtues of the American way of life. Too often in the academy and the political sphere the opposite is true. The student senate at the University of Washington brought dishonor on itself when it blocked a memorial to medal of honor recipient, Marine fighter ace, and an alumnus of the school named Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in 2006. One of the reasons cited: “Many monuments at UW already commemorate rich white men,” driveled one student.
A true example of honor is the Tomb Guard, a special platoon within the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Honor and respect has everything to do with their ceremonial and almost mystic vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The tomb represents not only all of those who died defending the republic, but also those who sacrificed their identity. The tomb has been guarded continuously and without interruption since the summer of 1937. Part of the creed of the sentinel guard reads:
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
My favorite thing to do in Arlington is to walk the hallowed grounds in that garden of stones. It is in so many ways the greatest monument to America and her splendor and character. WWII veteran, and Mississippi civil rights hero Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963, is buried there. Grand Rapids, Michigan native and astronaut Roger Chaffee, who died during an Apollo launch pad test, was also laid to rest in Arlington.
I actually left Arlington for a work related trip right before what has been dubbed “Snowpocalypse.” I remember watching the news about how the entire federal government had been shut down, and the area was in disarray. I remember thinking: while the weather was bringing the entire government to a halt, still somewhere things would be exactly the same. Across the Potomac in Arlington a solitary guard would be at his post, meticulously pacing 21 steps, with a rhythmic click of the heels, like an eternal heartbeat for America’s bravest.