I live in the Washington, D.C. area the majority of the time and that gives me the opportunity to be near some pretty historical events and people. It also affords me the privilege of being able to take a walk through the solemn grounds of Arlington National Cemetery more often than most. Arlington was a break from my run route when I was in college and during my tour at the Pentagon. I read an article by the Army News Service recently that quoted the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” commander Col. Jason Garkey as saying
… the cemetery is alive. If you pay attention, it will tell you things.
If you’ve walked those hallowed grounds, you know he is right. I have never taken a walk through Arlington and not felt moved by the sheer magnitude of the sacrifice that each of the over 400,000 souls interred or inurned there represent. The ceremony known as Flags In took place this Thursday, with the soldiers from the Old Guard — over a course of four hours — laying more than 234,000 small flags in front of headstones across the 624-acre cemetery. It is an honor the regiment has conducted every Memorial Day week since 1948, when the regiment was first designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit. Regiment Soldiers also placed about 11,500 flags at the nearby Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
Vice President Mike Pence came to speak to family members of the fallen during Thursday’s Flags In, stopping by Section 60, which is primarily used for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. No section of the cemetery stirs emotions like Section 60. I am not sure I have ever been to Section 60 when there was not a family member or friend paying a visit to someone they had loved and lost. They are easy to spot among the tourists because they sit and they talk or pray, leaving coins or unopened bottles of beer and favorite brands of liquor. The average tourist doesn’t know to look specifically for Section 60, but far too many a spouse, parent, sibling, or child are painfully aware of its existence.
If you are unaware of the meaning of the coins left on headstones, they have significance depending on denomination. When a coin is left, it is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with him in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the soldier when he was killed. Sometimes you will find a unit challenge coin left on the grave as well.
If you find yourself in Washington, D.C. in the future, carve out some time to visit Arlington. Stay for the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, take in the sweeping views, pay your respects and remember to listen. Every single marker has a story to tell and nobody loves or tells a story better than a Soldier.
Featured Image: Soldiers assigned to the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), participate in “Flags In” at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., 24 May, 2018. |