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Illustration by Vic Damon of 3AD.com Staff


VOICES FROM THE GARDEN OF STONE

By Don R. Marsh
11 November 2002, Tustin, Calif.

 

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 country!"

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 for eternity.

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 period.

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 Association Newsletter.

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 Trust.

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