Sunday, December 20, 2009

Breathtaking tribute

When I was 12, I traveled with a group of five little girls and a YWCA counselor to Washington, D.C. over the weekend. We'd earned the trip by raising money for the Y's teen group. Imagine 5 little girls, three white and two black, on a trip which was probably the first time most of us had ever left home without a parent. I'm no poet, but I tried to explain the emotion of it all back here in "Lessons Learned".

Anyway, one of the sites I will never forget visiting was Arlington National Cemetery, a place of eternal rest for those who served in the military. It was the military precision of all those stones lined up, for what seemed like MILES, that got to me. As we walked away to visit the eternal flame of President Kennedy's grave, I got so choked with emotion I didn't know what to do. I'd never felt so much for people I'd never met. As the rest of the group cheerfully raced to the van, I stood there at Kennedy's grave, remembering. Remembering being a little kid who asked her Mom, "Will he be all right?" Remembering her tears when she had to tell me he was no more.

About the time I thought my little heart would burst from this foreign concept of memorials which almost seemed like an homage to the senseless taking of life, I felt a hand on my shoulder. One of the soldiers we'd watched during the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was standing beside me. It was so cold that day the warmth of his hand was unexpected. I usually would have jumped out of my skin to have someone suddenly touch my shoulder. Especially a stranger. But there was silent understanding in that touch. An acknowledgement that the world can be filled with horror, yet people still care. That there's always hope. The lump in my throat begin to slide away.

He never spoke, just stood with me until I guess he'd decided I'd be all right. Before I could say thank you, he gave me a nod of the head and strode off with a confidence I wondered if I'd ever possess. This gentle stranger became my mental stand in for the "Unknown Soldier".

Today I saw a story about a man who, every year since 1992, lays 5,000 wreaths on the headstones at Arlington. The picture is breathtaking for many reasons.

{NOTE: Sorry, evidently doesn't like to share their pictures and the photo I'd posted was replaced by a ridiculous cartoon face I found offensive, so I removed it. You can see the original photo at the link below. }

If you want to read more about this gentleman who personally donates these wreaths, visit this link, where you can find a 7 minute video explaining it all.

Merry Christmas to those who serve, to those who have served and to my Unknown Soldier who will always remain steadfast and caring in my memory.


steven said...

hello hope - this is a powerful story. the images from the video are visually breathtaking and ultimately saddening. too many lives. i'm glad that they get acknowledged. steven

Susan at Stony River said...

What an amazing place; the size and stillness really brings home the price of war. An uncle of mine was buried there.

What a lovely man that soldier was. What a powerful moment!

Peggy said...


What a wonderful memory for you to have. Saddness for sure, but touched with compassion and a sense of hope that we will endure together. Such a powerful video too,perfect for all of us , to never forget the price of freedom and war.
Perfect post, just perfect!

Anonymous said...

This is indeed powerful. One of the things i love about blogging is how it teaches me little things I would otherwise never know. Thank you for starting my week with yet another example of that - it's appreciated and treasured.

hope said...

steven; I was just amazed that one man took such a large task upon himself. Then I realized the power of his deed is that ONE PERSON can make a difference.

Susan, I think if I visited Arlington today, I'd still feel somewhat shell shocked at the size of it all. And yes, the soldier was special. Makes me wonder what happened to him.

Thanks Peggy. It just seemed like a reminder of how kindness can be spread..and it doesn't have to just be at Christmas.

Matthew, I agree. We all learn so much from each other. And I think it ratchets our "compassion" gauge up a notch. :)

Rachel Fox said...


enchantedoak said...

I'm with Matthew: This is a perfect example of how my horizons are extending, thanks to blogs like yours and posts like this one, which teach me something and share humanity with me. Thank you for your remembrances.

mapstew said...

I don't visit the cemeteries as often as I used to. But I always go, alone, every christmas morning to 'visit' with family and friends who have passed. And as is to be expected, the visiting takes longer each year. This year I will have three more of my family and two more friends to visit. This has been the toughest year yet.



Janie B said...

Sobering story. Beautiful lives lost too soon. I hope your soldier is healthy and happy today.

Anonymous said...

I posted about this last week. It's stunning and just inspiring. Thank you for the wonderful post :) It's awesome and very powerful :)

hope said...

Rachel: right back at ya! x

enchantedoak: optimist that I am, I still believe one person can make a difference. And all of you have certainly added to my life!

Map: I was thinking about you when I wrote this, because you have lost so dearly this year. Ironically, the one thing my Dad made me promise was that I WOULDN'T visit his grave. He firmly believed he'd be in heaven and so there'd be no one for me to visit. :) x

Janie B: the adult me would like to kick the kid me for not at least looking at a name tag. But the kid me still hopes the man never had to go to war and lived a wonderful life.

Thanks Thom. Time erodes so many things but that memory is too deeply etched to ever forget.

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