Across the green hills, cobbled with white gravestones, a rolling thunder reaches into our souls.
Nineteen times the cannon speaks, a hollow boom hidden in the solemn recesses of Arlington.
The sign posted at the entrance as you enter the nation's cemetary for its war dead says it eloquently, its message poignant, stating there must be no bike riding, no children playing, no picknicking. "Please respect the sanctity of any funeral you see occurring...This is Hallowed Ground."
We are on a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C. We have toured all the memorials: Jefferson, Lincoln, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima. We have ended up, Memorial Day morning, on the steps of the amphitheater, overlooking the Tomb of the Unknowns. My wife Ti Lou, Greg and Peggy Vidrine, and most importantly my 15-year-old daughter, Jessica, have come to the nation's Capitol on this most sacred of weekends to see all the tourist things. But more than that, I want Jessica to understand the meaning of being American, and what hundreds of thousands of men and women have given up that she might live the life she lives--blonde, carefree, imbued with Britney and Backstreet fever, gabbing on the phone with girlfriends, talking always about boys.
She must understand what it means to be American, that people die across this world envying one simple thing about her--that she lives in and is a citizen of this country.
Every person that has "done" Washington has told us "If you do nothing else, you must see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns..."
Unwittingly, we are here at the most solemn of the Nation's rites--the Laying of the Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. A full military contingent, representing every branch of the services, and the U.S. Army Band conduct the ceremony. I see tears in my daughter's eyes--it is strange that I can see them through the wetness of my own.
Back in Baton Rouge, I am describing the trip to a friend, Lynn Burgett, who spent some time as a young woman working for the Navy in Washington, D.C.
Lynn was very excited about our trip, even going to her congressman's office and picking up maps and tour guides for us before we left, drawing us an itinerary.
Our conversation wanders across the history of the Capitol, Arlington, what people have done to be buried there...
You know, she says, Daddy got the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II.
C'mon Lynn, I say, ever the cynic. Are you sure of this? The DSC is the second-highest award for valor given by the armed services. The only thing higher is the Medal of Honor. Lots of folks get all that confused...the ranking of awards is Bronze Star, Silver Star, DSC, Medal of Honor...
The next day, she brings me attic relics--dusty pictures in frames and yellowed newspaper clippings of her father, Marcus Boudreaux of Gonzales, La. As a young Technical Sergeant in the Army Air Corps, he received the Distiguished Service Cross for his heroic actions as a radioman/gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress during a bombing raid in 1944 over Bremen, Germany.
Blinded in his left eye by cannon fire from German fighters, he suffered serious head wounds, continued returning fire, pulled an unconscious comrade from the ball turret, and was later found passed out over his guns--unconscious from blood loss and lack of oxygen.
I sit in awe, reading the clippings, looking at the faded red, white, and blue ribbon holding the cross with an eagle superimposed on its center, and I am again reminded of what I was trying to show Jessica.
That in the past and today, men and women warriors have stepped to the fore in a time of war, and offered their lives for this country.
Many came back. Many did not. Many have served without receiving large rewards or great medals. For many, the only remembrance is a simple white gravestone in a national cemetary.
But to all of you, veterans all, wherever you are remember this: though at times we seem shallow and out-of-touch, and our children seem more interested in the physical and pleasurable in life, we can and have been touched by your deeds and service.
We can and do realize your sacrifices are the reason we have the lives we enjoy as Americans today.
And sometimes, infrequently, our children get it too.
(This was written after a trip which occurred in 2002. I offer it here in honor of Memorial Day, and my brothers in the 82nd Airborne who have fallen in battle in so many wars. Airborne All the Way, guys. Gordon Hutchinson. www.theshootist.net)