Mark Twain once said that “golf is a good walk spoiled,” my experience of walking at Arlington National Cemetery has quite the opposite impact on me.
I have strolled the paths of the cemetery alone, with my family, with friends, as a tourist, as a resident of northern Virginia, and on a date with the woman I would eventually marry. I was there for my fiance’s grandmother’s interment with full military honors. Sometimes I was there for hours, taking in JFK’s eternal flame, going to see Robert E. Lee’s house, and reliving the changing of the guard. Other times I was there for a matter of minutes, stopping by when I had a free hour or so just so I could be there. Regardless of my personal circumstances, I was always struck by a deep sense of experience of the sacred. It was as if the breezes blowing through the trees echoed the voices of thousands of heroes, many of whom had lost their lives in defending my freedom. And the air just somehow exudes a sense of honor and of peace. I find myself humbled every time I go there.
I have been to other national cemeteries. My grandfather, Joe Wargo, was a veteran of World War II and Korea and is interred at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. He passed away when I was 12 years old, and his burial is a blur in my mind. Years later I lived and worked in Denver, and I took the opportunity to visit him. After that 1998 visit I’ve been to Denver several times, but I haven’t made it back to Fort Logan to see him. I do regret that and I plan the next time I am there to not only visit my “Grandpa Joe,” but also to take in the cemetery, which provides an experience similar to that of going to Arlington.
Most recently, I went to the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery this past Saturday. I am a member of the Knights of Columbus Color Corps for my assembly, and I and several of my fellow Knights were there to practice for our role in the cemetery’s Veteran’s Day ceremony, which will take place tomorrow. We will stand at attention, swords raised and in full regalia, honoring our veterans – both those living and those who have passed on. We practiced our march surrounded by a ring of dozens of huge American flags which had been raised by community volunteers there for their own practice. And I could look nearly every direction and see those rows of pristine white grave markers which identify the final resting place of so many heroes. I’m looking forward to honoring them in one of the only tangible ways I can, standing at attention as wreaths are carried up for presentation and the hymn for each of the five branches of our military is played.
I’ve never served in our military. Sometimes I wish I had, particularly around this time of year. But I’ve had several relatives serve, and I’ve found myself surrounded at different points in my life with men and women who also chose to serve. Some were acquaintances with whom I worked, and many others were and are people I have the privilege of calling my friends. I want to publicly acknowledge and thank you and all veterans for your service on this, your day of November 11th. I also encourage any and all who read this to do the same, and to consider making a pilgrimage to one of our national cemeteries. Whether you are going for the first time or the 200th time, be sure to stand in silence for just a little while at some point and totally take in the place. Listen. Experience the sacred, for you are standing on hallowed ground.