Forty one years (and about 41 pounds) ago, a teenage soldier took part in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery honoring the unknown soldier from the Korean War. That kid, if he was a lot skinnier and had more very dark hair, looked an awful lot like me. Wait a sec, it was me!
To be picked for the honor detail, in which all services and many units of each service were represented, the primary requirement was that you be at least six feet tall. The services weren’t as politically correct as they are today.
My most vivid memory of that Memorial Day is that it was really, really hot. And that I didn’t want to be there. That it was a long march to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Mostly I remember being worried that I would faint in the heat. A lot of people did. The trick, our Korean War vet sergeant told us, was not to lock our knees when we were at parade rest. Also, heavily starched khakis look good for about 4 minutes, after which they melt, then wrinkle.
Fast forward: Now I drive by the cemetery nearly every weekend, and I can see it from a vantage point a couple of blocks from my DC office. It hasn’t changed very much, but I have and the country certainly has.
But I do, as I get older, think more and more about the men and women buried there. Whether they died in combat, or later from service connected conditions or in bed, most never had a chance to get old, have families or groan and suffer the gag gifts at their 30th or 40th birthday party.
If you are ever in DC, whatever your political persuasion, make Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns, a “must” part of your trip.
If it weren’t for them, things would be a lot different for most of us. They made it possible for us to celebrate this as a holiday when, in fact, it is anything but.