I’m writing this column on a very reflective Memorial Day.
A couple years ago we lived on Fort Myer, Va., across the street from the Old Post Chapel and the back gate to Arlington National Cemetery. I believe we could see Arlington Cemetery from every window in our house, especially after the trees were cut down behind the chapel.
Four different funerals took place at the chapel while the movers unloaded our household goods from the truck. I often heard the Caisson horses as they clop-clopped past our house on the way to a service, or on their way back to the stables. My husband’s job with 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) made different memorial and ceremonial events a way of life for us for two years.
Before leaving for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the men’s and women’s basketball teams visited Arlington National Cemetery. I was photographing the women’s team through their visit at the Tomb of the Unknown and as they visited the grave sites in Section 60.
Observing through my camera I overheard Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Stitzel talking with one of the players, who was holding back tears. Stitzel asked her, “Why the tears? This isn’t a time to be sad. It’s a time to remember and rejoice in the lives that these soldiers lived, and their service.”
Her reply, “I know, but they’re so young.”
Seeing the cemetery through the basketball player’s eyes brought out some strong emotions in me. I was very thankful to have heard Stitzel’s wise, thoughtful words to her.
Before moving to Fort Hood, a friend told me about a boot memorial she had volunteered to help with in Hawaii, and told me that the organizer was also moving to Fort Hood. By the time I finally met Theresa Johnson, the Fort Hood Fisher House manager, she was already in the last stages of pulling together the first boot memorial at Fort Hood. I finally visited the boots in front of the III Corps headquarters, when they were moved to that location after the memorial run. To say I was emotionally moved by seeing all the boots would be an understatement.
After spending so much time in Arlington National Cemetery photographing different events such as Flags In before Memorial Day, and the placing of wreaths during Wreaths Across America, I knew how important these memorials are for family and friends of our fallen heroes. I offered Theresa Johnson to photograph each of the boots so the images could be shared with those who were not able to attend the memorial. While spending time at the boot memorial, I saw how individuals reacted to the boots and the attached photos of the fallen heroes. Each person had their own unique reaction, and that’s okay.
I’m inspired by Mrs. Johnson and others who work hard to make sure our service members are not forgotten. A Washington State neighbor told me over ten years ago how thankful she is that the soldiers and families now have more support than her soldier did when he came home after his Vietnam tours. She also talked about seeing more respect for our fallen heroes, too.
Michael Castle, former U.S. Representative for Delaware, is often credited with saying, “These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation who has a long history of patriotism and honor — and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats of terror.”
I am very thankful for our service members and their service. As we hopefully move into a time of fewer deployments, I hope we always remember our fallen heroes — not only on Memorial Day, but throughout the entire year, as well.