Arlington National Cemetery: The Family Plot

Author: Claire Henline

William B Henline GravestoneWhispering across the ageless stones, some of our modern-day Spartans lie in Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery itself has long held a singular reputation of honor, duty, and sacrifice, but it is really one of many distinguished cemeteries for our nation's veterans across the country. Still, Arlington captures the patriot's heart and evokes the spirit of sacrifice like few other cemeteries. It is the platform for which millions come to learn the full cost of freedom.  It is the granite-dotted vista that beckons to a peace amidst daily chaos. It's the trail's end for joggers, the overwhelming estate of altruism, and one of Washington, D.C.'s most popular tourist attractions.

But for some, it is the family plot. 

This Memorial Day, the family plot of America's families of fallen heroes will again be center stage in tributes and orations for the national remembrance. And we will be there, of course, because our loved ones were heroes. They were heroes every day. The nation knows them for one day - the day they died. But for thousands of days they lived and worked and devoted themselves to the cause of freedom. For thousands of days they imprinted upon our realm a spirit that does not just simply end with a last breath. 

You'll see us there, in Arlington, in person or in pictures; we are the family made by the cost of freedom. In red, white, and blue . . . and some black; in TAPS shirts and with hero photo buttons. We'll take our blankets, our provisions, and our traditions, and we will bivouac there again in the thin space where heaven draws just a little bit nearer to us. We need not be called to remember a love that never left us. We will be among the fellowship of those who implicitly know that we live Memorial Day every day. 

We have come to know each other and each other's heroes on a first name basis.  We walk among the rows and we see dozens upon dozens of names of men and women we've never met but feel so very much they too are ours. 

There's Jamie; he's 82nd Airborne.  And there's Paul who loves the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  Jesse smiles like his mama; you can see it in his picture.  Megan here loves biking.  Over there that's Mark who threw a wicked fastball in high school.  Marilyn is a twin and has a passel of grandkids. You'll find Mike down the row; his kid is at West Point now. Nate's little girl made it to Disney World this year. Oh, James' daughter will pin colonel soon.  And this is William, my dad. Would you like to meet more?

In the family plot we will give knowing looks to each other, understanding the visitors today have a discomfort about death that allow them but this brief glimpse into lives forever changed on their behalf. And that's ok, because we know death will bring wisdom to all in time. One day, each in turn will crave to tell someone about those lopsided grins, bellied laughs, fashion struggles, and all the sundry characteristics of a life we still carry with us when we smile, laugh, and make really bad fashion choices.

It's ok to talk about a dead loved one. It's normal. They lived and it's the most basic human trait to want to carry the legacy of their life forward. It's why you're still making your great-grandmother's potato salad. It's why your family still cheers for the Cubs when you live in Virginia. It's why you may be reading this with an accent. It's why life goes on and so do our heroes in each of us.

And so we come on Memorial Day to our family plot, to honor our loved ones. To show them how we are living their legacy every day. We hope our presence there will compel more people to remember.  Remember them from whom the stone whisper across the ages. Remember our Spartans. Will you?

Originally published by AmeriForce Publishing in Reserve & National Guard Magazine May 2016 edition