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Arlington National Cemetery
June 22, 2007

USA as flag

It is a beautiful but sad place, our National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. It is where America buries its dead soldiers. It is where the price of our freedom is perhaps the most obvious. The graves are well marked, the markers standing as if to create the final military formation. The lines perfect in every direction.

However, there is another part of this cemetery that is never seen. It comes alive every night, unannounced and unseen, rain or shine. It begins when the last rays of the sun cast the long shadows of the evening, when the families and the tourists have left and the quiet returns. An eerie mist forming in the lower areas adds a foreboding atmosphere to the gentle slopes. The white crosses appear somewhat brighter in those moments before the sun drops behind the horizon, and then it is night.

The meetings start slowly. The spirits of the dead rise from the grass-covered confines of their graves, their torn and mutilated bodies left behind them. It is their time again, The darkness of the park becomes alive, but only for the dead. These are secret meetings, attended only by the members of this special group. This is the time when they are allowed, for a few brief moments of time, to be whole, as their god intended them to be. A time to share the lives they once lived with others. A time to share the things that only the dead can share.

They gather in small groups around the grounds, silently repeating the never-ending rituals learned so long ago. A silent whisper of the chants learned by all young soldiers trying so hard to be like the men they followed, veterans all, from all of the wars. Here are the men who gave up their lives for a country that has seemingly forgotten them and the battles they fought. Here are the soldiers going to the meetings that never end, to join in the discussions that are never answered.

The spirits move silently across the fields, not hampered by the monuments erected to their memories by a once caring nation. A few pause as they near the lone soldier guarding The Tomb. They offer a moment of silent prayer, a soft hand salute to their unknown comrade, then move along. Death has a strange effect upon those that earned it.

There is no rank here. Death is the leveler, the common denominator.

Were you allowed to listen to the conversations here, you would hear talk of musketry and sea battles, air wars and trenches, and valor and prison camps. All told with the stark realism of life as only they could know it. Gone are the terrible sounds that accompanied those battles, the explosions and screams live only in their memories, never to be forgotten by those that endured them.

The souls gathering here are aware of the modern world. New arrivals keep them informed at these gatherings. The concern, and it flows throughout the cemetery, is that people still have not learned the secrets of living together in peace.
Donald Purvis
Retired Sergeant Major, US Army
Copyright 2003

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