will never forget my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery. I was about 10 years old. Mom and Ned took us to Washington, DC for a summer vacation. Glancing around all I could see were tombstones for what seemed miles. At that point, I didn’t realize the magnitude of what I was seeing; but I do remember being overcome with emotion at the sight of all of the graves.
When I was 13 my grandparents took me back for a visit to D.C. as we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was overcome with emotion. I understood by that time that their sacrifice meant freedom for me. I understood that they willingly chose to fight for our freedom and willingly sacrificed their lives.
At 17, nothing could have prepared me for the raw emotion that would surface. I had seen and read about it in books but until you stand on the D Day Beaches and visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial that honors American soldiers who died in WWII. The impact and realization that these men and women belonged to someone caused me to fall to my knees and weep. For the first time, I felt the overarching magnitude of sacrifice. Families were altered forever because their loved ones were not coming home.
In March of 1994, I visited Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the USS Arizona. Again the sheer magnitude of lives lost in battle overwhelmed me. However, in 2008, Terry and I took a trip back to D.C. He had never been. Not only did we visit the Arlington National Cemetery, we also visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall. On this wall more than 58,000 men and women’s names are listed, a sobering realization that war, whether declared or not, is not for the faint of heart. In his book, A Rumor of War, Phillip Caputo sums it up like this, “There was so much human suffering in these scenes that I could not respond to it.”
Today is our day to reflect and remember. Reflect on our history, from the past to the present, we have men and women whose lives have been lost because “Freedom is not free.”