Liquid sunshine is caressing this morning thousands of marble headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is visible on top of the hill as we drive to Ft. Myer. I am reminded of the altruistic sacrifice of thousands and thousands of soldiers who came before my husband, some who have made the ultimate sacrifice and some who still serve our country. They are the quiet heroes who made possible the freedoms many Americans take for granted every day. I appreciate everything because I have lived through tyranny.
We are silent. My inner melancholy reflects on my husband’s usually stoic face. He proudly served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America for 27 years. Today, he will be honored with 33 other soldiers whose collective service represents 796 years of faithful duty. The Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, D.C. will review the officers and non-commissioned officers who have honorably served and retired.
The pomp and circumstance will be highlighted by the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and the United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own). The Eagle Squadron, the Sabre and Spurs, and the National Spirit will dazzle the audience with a pre-ceremony concert.
I am glad that the usual outdoor ceremony is moved inside, not so much for everyone’s comfort, although temperatures were predicted to reach a scorching 100 degrees today. Not far from our celebration, sailors dressed in white are honoring a fallen hero from the U.S. Navy.
As a military wife and American patriot, the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of our Flag is not just a customary salute of respect. The rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is deeply felt. It is a tearful mixture of pride, joy, and blessings for the luck and privilege to live in the United States, the best place on earth.
Thirty-four men and women wore their uniforms today for the last time in an official capacity. No civilians can understand or appreciate the places these soldiers have traveled to, the hardships they’ve endured away from their families, the sacrifices they’ve made, the number of nights they’ve slept under the stars, in the sand, in their Humvees, in tents, in tanks, and all the special moments in the lives of loved ones they have missed. They were exposed to the elements, thirsty and hungry at times, dirty, eaten by bugs, injured, alone sometimes, unprotected, under fire, yet seldom complained.
Soldiers volunteer to serve our country because it is the right thing to do – it is about duty, honor, courage, valor, and sacrifice in the defense of our republic. Thousands of faceless and nameless heroes came before my husband, a monolith of men of unparalleled courage and devotion to a common cause that few civilians understand. We owe them a debt of gratitude for what they do for the rest of us. However, few Americans acknowledge, understand, or respect a soldier’s duty and role in our country until their peace is threatened. As one wise soldier once said, “You reside under the yoke of freedom which I provide. Have a nice day!”
“The Americans are coming” has been uttered across of the world, sometimes in fear, sometimes in relief, and every time, it was a nameless, faceless soldier, someone’s husband, son, or brother who rose to the occasion of freeing a nation or punishing evil around the world.
Many American soldiers rest in cemeteries around the world, their sacrifice forgotten, save for the headstone and the occasional wreath. Vandals sometimes deface their tombs.
My husband and I carried home his retirement certificate, encased in an embossed green holder, a letter of appreciation from the Commander in Chief, and a carefully folded American flag which I held like a priceless possession.
I know how much soldiers give up to save people they don’t even know who often don’t appreciate nor are grateful for their help. Soldiers do not ask questions, they are duty and honor bound to do what they are told. For their valor, courage, and fortitude, God bless the American soldiers who make the peaceful existence of the United States of America possible every day!