Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends.
The old concrete path was well-worn from the many years of travel as it wound its’ way through the rolling landscape marked with the sea of endless marble headstones. Hundreds of visitors scurried to and fro snapping pictures as they went, but no one noticed the man standing alone in the distance. If one had, they would have no doubt pondered on how melancholy a scene it was. The dogwood trees in full bloom for spring provided a safe pink canopy for the lone soldier who mourned beneath it.
His uniform pristine, his pants freshly ironed with not a wrinkle in sight. His muddy boots had traded for a pair shiny black ones that he had no doubt polished himself that morning. Across his chest lay rows of medals and pins marking the honor and bravery he showed daily for protecting his country. He watched the people pass hastily by and couldn’t help but notice how no one stopped to mourn or place a flower on the grave. He asked himself how long would it be before he lay there himself among his fallen brothers and sisters long forgotten by a world moving too fast to care.
For him, this day was not a vacation day to spend with family and friends. This day was not a day to relax on the endless miles of beaches that stretched across his country. On this day, there would be no cookouts, or parties, or cheers. There would only be the grief and a lonely single year. This single tear he shed with all of his might for he knew he would soon be back to pick up his brother’s fight. As three shots were fired, the sounds of bravery and honor echoed through the cemetery. The tourists paused for a moment realizing for the first time in their lives where true sacrifice was laid to rest.
This short story above is based on real life events I experienced with my husband, while on a trip to Arlington Cemetery. One of the first things I noticed upon entering the cemetery is the range of emotions that ran through me. The overwhelming sense of gratitude and mourning as I first set my eyes on the miles of endless tombstones covering the rolling green hills. I felt as though every agonizing tear shed over those tombstones was pouring out through my heart like a gushing fountain. And yet, a strange sense of peace seemed to cast itself over the entire cemetery. As we proceed through the winding path that leads you through the cemetery, I soon discovered that with each new step we were on a journey through time itself. For with each new war, comes a new collection of tombstones marking the ultimate sacrifice paid for the price of victory and freedom.
It wasn’t until we walked a good mile that we happened upon the setting of our story; a soldier’s funeral in mid-procession. I immediately felt that I was interfering in something private and intimate. My husband and I kept a safe distance, while others did not. Some passed closely by and snapped pictures as though it were put on display for their own enjoyment while others, paid no attention all. What saddened me the most about this particular burial was other than the four fellow soldiers and priest who attended there was no family present. There was no widow to mourn the loss of her husband and best friend. There was no mother or father to experience the grief of burying their child. It’s hard to imagine but an all too real truth that not every soldier has someone to come home too. When the three volleys fired the surrounding crowds suddenly realized that this was no reenactment. Everyone paused as we swallowed the hardest lesson of all; freedom is not free.