A few weeks ago I was in the D.C. area for Malice Domestic. A new mystery friend, Sherry Novinger Harris, who is local, offered me a ride to the airport. Not only did I get to the airport without having to descend into D.C.’s highly Soviet-esque underground system, complete with bunkers for train stops, but I got a guided tour of the town as we drove. Sherry called it a kidnapping, but I was a kid in a candy store over seeing the Smithsonian’s castle and the Washington Monument. All this to tell you that I caught a glimpse of Arlington National Cemetery, too.
It was hard to dampen my enthusiasm for all I was getting the chance to see, but Arlington got close. As Sherry and her husband quickly told me, not every headstone at Arlington belongs to a solider who died in service. Many grew to old age and were buried there in honor of past service. Still, it’s a chilling sight.
By the time this is published we could be in an additional skirmish or two. No. I won’t say skirmish. I want to say war, because that’s what we’re in. We’ve been at war continuously for so long, but somehow the modern version of war allows most of us not to be personally affected or touched by it. Let’s at least use the right words.
My dad, a veteran of the National Guard, volunteers to do military funerals. Every week, now that he’s retired, he puts on the blues and stands at attention in honor of the service of someone who has (usually) been out of service for decades. Once or twice a week, sometimes more. I’ve been to one of these, when my cousin’s husband, a former member of the military, lost the war on cancer. The volunteer guard escorts and salutes the casket. They shoot 21 rounds, then collect the casings for, in this case, the deceased man’s little boy to keep. They remove the flag from the casket and fold it just so. And then one of them, representing a grateful nation, presents the folded flag to the family. In this case, my dad handing a folded flag to the widow, his niece.
Can you imagine doing this two or three times a week? Can you imagine being handed that flag? Did you know there aren’t enough people who know how to play “Taps” on the trumpet or bugle (who aren’t too busy being middle school band students) to keep up with the pace of military funerals? Did you know that a website exists for counting the military dead?
There are certainly things in this world that I have no first-hand experience with, that my life has insulated me from. Days like today, Memorial Day, I’m reminded of all I have to be grateful for, and all the things I might yet have to endure.
Thank you to those who have or do, still, right now, protect us.
*The lyrics to “Taps,” also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby”
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
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