I wish every American kid could visit Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s in Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. You can see the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome from what was once the estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
I was a soon-to-be sophomore in high school the first time I stood there on a lush, green hill and looked down the rows of crosses, aligned in military precision, stretching out to the horizon. I was looking at our nation’s war dead – heroes who paid the ultimate price for my freedom.
I remember thinking that most of them had been boys scarcely older than me.
We visited the Capitol, saw the monuments, toured museums and strolled the hallways of history. But it was Arlington that stamped itself most deeply on my young heart.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the changing of the guard – the discipline and attention to detail of those soldiers – was awe-inspiring. The inscription on that block of marble is carved forever in my mind.
in honored glory
an American soldier
known but to God.”
When I visited, kids a few years older than me were still getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. It would still be many years before there was a Vietnam Memorial in the National Mall. Our nation was still torn and bleeding with conflict over that war, and support for the military was at an all-time low.
Sadly, unpopular wars have continued to be part of this country’s dealings with the world. History will be the judge over Iraq, Afghanistan and the other conflicts into which our leaders inject us.
But our country has made progress when it comes to honoring those who serve, and for that we should all be grateful.
Whether we agree with a war or not, I think we’ve learned to give proper respect to those who give years of their lives to keep our country free. They put on a uniform, they train, they work and they go where they’re sent. They risk their lives and sometimes, they sacrifice their lives.
We’re learning, too, that they come home with scars both physical and psychological.
Since Vietnam, we’ve learned to respect them. I hope the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan will be that we step up and accept responsibility for taking care of their needs.
Veterans’ hospitals should offer the finest medical care this country can provide, and that care should include an awareness of things like post-traumatic stress, survivor guilt and the other nightmares they bring home with them.
They went in whole and came back something less. It’s our country’s responsibility to make them whole again if we can.
I’m proud to be part of a community that’s making such a huge effort to build houses for returning disabled veterans. I’m proud to be part of a community where veterans aren’t just patted on the back, but given jobs and opportunities and hope for the future.
I hope we’ve learned, and I hope we remember: We honor those who didn’t come back by taking care of those who did.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.