Remembering Fallen Heroes

Arlington National Cemetery photo by Chris Cocoles.

I need to get back to Washington D.C. As fractured and divided as our country – and especially our capital city – is right now, there’s something about Washington that inspires me to learn.

I’ve been to our nation’s capital city twice now, but I feel like I didn’t see anything near enough. As I think about the Memorial Day holiday today – at the same time engulfed in the reality of a pandemic that continues to infect, kill and financially cripple us – I was reminiscing about a 2006 trip to Washington. I went with my great buddy Chris to visit our friend Laura, who had gone to D.C. for a fellowship on Capitol Hill.

It worked out perfectly timing-wise for Chris and I to do a side trip to Baltimore, where my beloved Oakland A’s were in town to play the Orioles. But it was our tour of D.C. that had the biggest impact on me.

My biggest regret was when Chris and I took the Metro across the District to check out Arlington National Cemetery, where a who’s who of Americans are buried – from boxer Joe Louis to civil rights activist Medgar Evers; from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey to General Omar Bradley; from Presidents William Howard Taft to John F. Kennedy and his eternal flame.

But it was the earliest history of Arlington that had me most geeked out to visit. During some of the darkest days of the Civil War in 1864, when the Union seemed in control but the carnage looked like it would never end, the Union converted Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Arlington home into a permanent resting place for fallen Union troops. Today, 16,000 Union (and 482 Confederate) veterans are buried at Arlington, along with U.S. military heroes, some who we studied in history books, others with less fanfare but no less courage and importance.

Chris and I spent a couple hours exploring Arlington, but it was a scorching July day with stifling humidity, and eventually we were chased away to an air-conditioned pub. Both of us being history buffs, we probably would have stayed even longer, so I’ve always wanted to go back. When our health and welfare are not at such a high risk I’ll return and spend an entire day at Arlington.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m thinking about today when I ponder Washington: Not a broken political machine but a sacred spot where so many fought and died for.

Enjoy your Memorial Day holiday. And remember why you’re celebrating it.