The Arlington National
Cemetery after midnight is as quiet as any other graveyard except
when the silent soldiers entombed there meet late at night to
voice their concerns. You should go to Arlington on any quiet
night when the soft breezes are blowing among the shadows of
the white marble markers and you will hear the voices of the
Stones, talking in whispers of remorse and regret, of the shattered
dreams of these once young men.
If only those across town in government could hear what they
discuss night after night here among the white marble tablets
bearing their names, as well as the names of others who have
fallen in battle.
Those sentinels on duty tonight are among the lost generation
from World War Two and Korea. Had they lived, today they might
be grandfathers, old men of seventy plus and most in their eighties.
But destiny stepped in and decided that was not meant to be for
them, they were to become The Forgotten Ones. These silent sentries
from the past are the symbols of what might have been. They speak
to each other, in soft voices, but no one else hears their message.
In the stillness of the night, one voice speaks with a tinge
of bitterness, "I thought they (the politicians) would have
learned from the price we had to pay. When I died in the surf
on June 6, 1944, on Normandy's Omaha Red Beach, I wasn't even
old enough to vote for those in charge and here I am, stuck in
this place forever."
Another expresses his opinion and dismay that those in the main
government seat in the nation's capital drive past this hallowed
ground every day, "But they either have forgotten why we
are here or else they don't care to remember why we came to this
place. We gave our lives for their beliefs and ideologies. Would
any of them wish to trade places with us? I doubt it."
The kid from Chicago, an only son of a poor immigrant Jewish
family next speaks. He says he'll never forget how difficult
it had been for his mother to accept the information from the
Army representative that he had been killed - in error, at St.
Lo, France, in the bombing by our own U.S. Army Air Force planes.
He spoke, "This new adopted country of ours was to be our
safe haven from persecution in Germany and the start of a new
life for us. My life ended in Normandy."
Then my old friend from our post World War Two years of 1947-1949,
when we served together in the time-honored duty assignment as
Military Escorts, at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, returning the war
dead to their home of record, or a National Cemetery, for burial;
John R. Rice, Sergeant First Class, Infantry, Regular Army, voiced
his opinion, to say, "Soldiers don't win wars, we just fight
the battles. Ours is not to reason why. That's what we do."
This battle-scarred infantry warrior was a full blooded Winnebago
Indian, from Winnebago, Nebraska. He reminded his listeners that
it was none other than President Harry S Truman who signed the
Executive Order on June 25, 1950, sending him and his unit, the
First Cavalry Division, to fight in Korea. It happened here,
in the fury of battle when John "bought the farm" on
September 11, 1950, in the Pusan Perimeter. No one wanted to
tell the truth and call it a real outright killing war, so they
named it a "Police Action." John was one of the many
of our defenders who paid the ultimate price and died in battle
in a foreign land. Fifty odd years later we still have over 30,000
men stationed there to act as "peace keepers."
To add to the irony of the moment, Rice, who had escorted the
remains of many of his fallen Indian comrades home, was then
denied burial in his hometown. It became a national shame when
the good citizens of Sioux City, Iowa, refused to permit John's
widow to bury him in the local cemetery because he was not a
Caucasian, even though this was his native land. President Truman
then personally directed the Army to bury John here in the Garden
of Stone. His carefully selected place of honor is the grave
located between the graves of General John J. Pershing and General
Walton H. Walker. It is only fitting this native son was laid
to rest with the highest military honors at the nation's most
sacred and hallowed ground, among his military peers.
One of the solemn voices had this to say about another catastrophe.
"Why didn't John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson hold off
sending our forces piecemeal into Indo-China as 'military advisors'
knowing full well we were stepping into a quagmire we would learn
to regret? Look at what we lost there, another 58,000 men. Damn,
when will we ever learn?" Today, our "military advisors"
span the globe in foreign assignments.
The former farm kid from Beebe, Arkansas, in a soft voice questioned
why the guys in college were able to get draft deferments and
did not have to serve like every other draft eligible young American.
You know the theme "Duty, Honor, Country"; or were
these just mere words on a wall someplace on the Hudson River
in New York?
The guy who died on the Death March at Bataan was the true cynic
among the voices. Dripping with sarcasm, this is the way he put
it, "Well now, my fellow patriots, who says that they have
forgotten us? Don't they hold an annual Memorial Day service
in our honor with speeches and VIPs who place a floral wreath
in the midst of their television high profile coverage to show
they really do remember us - even if for only one day a year?
Where is your appreciation? Why they even have a flag placed
next to your very own marble marker to show that you served your
The politicians win in the war of words because they are immune
to the casualties of war, whereas the men they knowingly send
into battle will stand alone when it comes time to make the personal
sacrifice. The politicians survive all verbal battles, while
many of the soldiers will perish. The latter, as Rice did, are
forced to accept this as a fait accompli.
There is also the Honor Guards of Company A of the 3rd Infantry
Division, the President's Detail. They are quartered in their
Fort Myers, Virginia, barracks polishing their brass accouterments
and spit shining the boots and cap visors. Theirs is a volunteer
duty assignment, requiring one to function like a robot without
showing any emotion.
The show of sorrow or personal grief can never penetrate their
armor. To allow them to is grounds for relief from duty and immediate
reassignment. Precision drills, firing squads, folding of the
flag and the mournful notes of the Bugler's heart wrenching version
of Taps is the repetitious and mundane routine they practice
daily. Another day and another name on a white marble Stone.
Eventually, these elite soldiers transfer and take leave of this
perpetual Garden of Stone, the Valhalla of our warriors. In time,
even some of these career Army men will return here to remain
A headstone of pristine white marble marks each gravesite at
Arlington. Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered
marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David; stylized crosses
mark all others. Annotated on the headstones of World War I servicemen
who could not be identified is: "HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN ONLY TO GOD." The words "AN
AMERICAN SOLDIER" were replaced with the words "A COMRADE
IN ARMS" on the headstones of World War II servicemen's
remains who could not be identified because of the tri-service
nature of that war.
The Memorial Day services at Arlington are the highlight of the
year, but late in the evening on Mother's Day is when you can
listen to the sounds of the Stones weeping -- no, not for themselves,
but for the loved ones of all military personnel whose fate is
being decided at this moment by our leaders in government. After
the deadly terrorists' air attacks in New York and the Pentagon,
the USA, as the world's only superpower, has been forced to fill
the role of policemen for the world -- for a long and indefinite
As the cauldron in the Middle East heats up and threatens to
boil over into another Desert Storm, restraint is the impassioned
plea of the voices of the Garden of Stone. The calculated danger
of the inevitable "mission creep" without a viable
exit policy looms on the horizon. The Stones know all too well
from first-hand experience that it is just a matter of time;
that once the battle is enjoined, others will eventually be sent
to join them here at Arlington's perpetual Garden of Stone. If
those who make the decisions to send men into battle would take
a solitary walk among the white marble Stones on a brilliant
moonlit night and stand in the center of this massive memorial,
perhaps they could sense the urgent message and plaintive plea
for everlasting peace.
Whenever there is a severe lightening and thunder storm at Arlington,
the Stones are communicating with Thor, the God of War, who is
angered that we mortals are not listening to His omens, by the
way of His eternal messengers, the Stones. The violent electrical
storm serves to punctuate the foreboding prediction of many more
lives that will be lost in the years to come in search of peace.
As the author, Irving Cobb, once said, "If the dead could
return to life, there would be no more wars."
A condensed and edited version of this article
appeared previously in a 1993 issue of the 3rd Armored Division
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family