Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reflections on Mortality


On New Year's Eve I went to Arlington with part of the tribe. Our first stop was that grave in the opening photo, Major Edward J. Rasimus, USAF (Retired). If you look really, really close, nestled near the bottom of the wreath, down in the grass, is something shiny. I did that. Some of you will get that, some of you won't.

I told Ras, as he was known to his friends, that I was representing a few people that day. My blog-buddy Murphy for one and my co-blogger Juvat for another. (Murphy knew Major Rasimus post-Air Force, Juvat flew with him. Seriously.)

It was a very moving experience.

The View from Major Rasimus's Grave

This was the third time I had visited Arlington. It won't be the last.

While walking the grounds, amongst those honored dead, I realized that when my time comes, I want to be there.

Now I'm no hero, I'm not made of the same stuff heroes are made of. But back in May of 1975 I swore the following oath...
I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
A few days after swearing that oath, I donned the uniform of the United States Air Force and wore that uniform for 24 years. I served faithfully and honorably. According to Part 553 of Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations, I am eligible to be laid to rest in Arlington when the Good Lord calls me home.


2014 was, in some ways, a simply awful year.

I lost a good friend back in the spring and another in December when Buck Pennington stepped into the clearing at the end of the path.

But 2014 was also a good year for the most part.

Trips to see my kids, playing with my grandkids, trips to see my Mom and my brothers, can't complain about any of that.

Heck, I got to ride an aircraft carrier!

Met two excellent bloggers face to face, ORPO and Murphy.

Sampled a number of new beers as well. Hit a few new restaurants.

Not bad 2014, not bad.

But life has its ups and downs. Arlington reminded me of that...



Back when we first moved to Little Rhody, The Missus Herself had a couple of real estate agents stop by the house. This couple were selling cemetery plots!

At the time, I was not in the market, so to speak. Since then? Well, a lot has happened.

Kids graduated from college.

Kids got married.

Grand-kids were born.

New friends were made.

Old friends were lost.

My Dad passed into Eternity.

It all makes a fellow think...



As we walked the grounds, The WSO's father-in-law noted that the sun was gone and night was drawing near.

"...after all, we don't want to be in a cemetery after dark, do we?"

I stopped, looked around, then said, "Doesn't bother me here. I'm surrounded by friends."

Truly, it felt that way.

Most of the folks buried there are men and women I would have enjoyed a beer with. Men and women I would have been proud to serve with. Men and women who served their country.

Pretty fine company when you think about it...



Near the Tomb of the Unknowns, all that can be heard is the measured tread of the guard on duty...

...the snap of heels clicking together and the rattle of a rifle at each end of the sentry's route.

It is normally quiet there. It is hallowed ground.

In the crisp cool air of a Virginia winter, as the sun slips below the horizon, these sounds give one pause.

If you have any soul at all, you wonder at the identities of those Honored Unknowns.

What were they like as people?

Where were they from?

What circumstances led to them giving their lives for their country?

The silence there can be deafening...



Looking out at the capital of this great nation, you see the cars on the road, people going about their daily affairs.

Life.

Continuing.

But for these honored dead, life is over.

Taps has been sounded...

The final roll has been taken...

The dead do speak. The life continuing out there, beyond the silent tombs?

They paid for that.


I hope to visit Arlington again in this life. Many times.

It is a beautiful place.

A haunting place.

Someday I want to be there...

To stay there.

It just feels right.

Two words always echo in my head when I am at Arlington...

Thank you.

20 comments:

  1. Excellent............
    I have a shirt tail relative whose name on the Marker at The Little Bighorn.
    I go into a certain mode at that place,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    I have never been to Arlington.................
    Thanks for the mention my friend.............................................

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  2. My daughter and I visited Arlington National Cemetery on Veteran's Day years back when we were in DC to attend the Ia Drang Valley veteran's reunion. We spent dawn at the Vietnam Memorial Wall for roll call - an experience I will never forget. Then we moved on to Arlington. Unfortunately, President Bush was laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that day. We were there before Bush arrived and did not have time to stay and hear his speech, but it made for quite a crowd with high security. Still, it was a beautiful fall day and very moving experience.

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    1. Two places that always get to me: Arlington and the Wall. To experience both, on Veterans' Day must indeed have been moving.

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  3. Great stuff Sarge.

    To paraphrase Lincoln, the world takes little note of and will not remember beltway babble, but it can never forget what these men and women did to earn their resting place.

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  4. Was stationed, a time or two, in the vicinity of Arlington. Visited the cemetery whenever I got the chance. Hallowed place. Have thought about requesting burial there.
    Back in 1984, while watching the interment of the Vietnam Unknown I began writing this:
    http://jmawelsh.blogspot.com/2012/01/poem-unknown-soldier.html

    Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, it's beautiful.

      Got dusty in here, real sudden like.

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  5. "Got dusty in here, real sudden like."

    Yeah. That.

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  6. "2014 was, in some ways, a simply awful year."

    Yep... there've been better years.

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  7. I have been there. I thought it was very peaceful.

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    1. I thought so too. Particularly after riding the Metro in from Alexandria. Walking from the Metro station and then through the Visitor's Center.

      Then the quiet.

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  8. I usually take my daughter to Fort Myer. This year I sent her an email and asked her mom to pack her bathing suit because Fort Myer, every winter, sets up an inflatable over their swimming pool. Her mother didn't and we didn't go for a swim in that marvelous pool. I go to Fort Myer every time I visit home and I always will. Every time though, I think about parking the car there by the playground and hopping over that low little wall and stopping by my grandparents grave.

    It's amazing though isn't it? Arlington National Cemetery was running out of room a decade or two ago. There was no room for heroes or soldiers of any kind. You might not live in Arlington and drive down the George Washington Parkway in order to get to Annandale. There is ONLY one person I am related to who would... I noticed, with my aunt who I have not seen in over 40 years that the Air Force Memorial rises up now from a place hard by the cemetery. It was the place next to Henderson Hall that used to share that name and was also known as the Navy Annex. It is all bare grassy ground now. It wasn't such a place for a very long time. Really, a long time. It might be reborn as a place for resting heroes caught between the wars. It shares that tiny little wall.

    On the Fort Myer side, it really is a little wall. On the Navy/Marine side it is a tiny wall. It's a bit like life.One sees the Old Guard in their shiny duty uniforms, the measured pace of the guardian, the house now occupied by a Lieutenant General that was my father's house when he was a little boy and his father the Lieutenant Colonel was serving with the 12th Army Group and you kind of miss your childhood years growing up on the places the Army and the Navy and the Marines made home. Meigs is still answering for the crime.

    Set aside what it is today, look 8 miles down the river, consider who's home was planted with those of us and those like us. ANC born in conflict, home to warriors of conflict.

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    1. My daughter pointed out that inflatable over the pool at Fort Myer, which is where she normally does her shopping.

      I saw the low wall, thought about those who were on the other side of that wall.

      At Thanksgiving we went all the way up the hill to General Lee's house (for I still think of it that way). Splendid view.

      Good words, Cap'n. Very good words.

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