Veterans' Day - Part II

About 1200 miles in under 30 hours.  Ian, Dave and I headed down to Washington, D.C. to visit Arlington National Cemetery to find the headstones of two of my uncles.  We drove through the night and arrived in D.C. around 6:30am.  The cemetery had yet to open so we went out into the chilly morning air to explore the WWII Memorial as the sun broke the horizon.  We spent an hour walking the ramps and steps of the memorial with our hands shoved in our pockets and shoulders up to our ears to keep warm.  Joggers shuffled by, groups of students huddled together, a lone soldier passed through the memorial.

We piled into the car and headed over to Arlington, the sun still low in the sky.  As we walked out to the cemetery, the sunlight was reflecting off of the white headstones.  We crossed the road and walked up to a section of the cemetery in silence.  Rows upon rows of headstones.  Each headstone represents someone who has served our country.  Some lived long lives, some tragically short.  However, they all had that one thing in common.  It was an overwhelming sight.  It was surreal.  It was heartbreaking.  I felt that if I were to utter a word it would have been unintelligible.  My eyes had welled up and the emotion and power of that place had overcome me.

We moved slowly and silently amongst the headstones.  Reading the names on them, reading the conflict in which they had served, learning how old they had been when they were put in the ground.  Strangers who we had never met, who we will never meet.  We eventually made our way to where each one of my uncles were buried and up to the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers to witness the changing of the guard.  We took our time walking out amongst the dead, thankful for the experience and thankful that we live in a place that allowed us to make this trip.

After Arlington we stopped off in Leesburg to meet a friend of Ian's for lunch and headed back on the road.  Perhaps a hair-brained idea.  Totally worth it.  Thanks to Ian and Dave for accompanying me on this trip.  Driving, keeping me awake, sharing in the experience.  And again... Thank you to all that have and do serve our country.

Veterans' Day - Part I

Each year this comes around and each year it's a bit different for me.  This year, it's drastically different.  Through my experiences and friendships gained via KMD, it's given me a different perspective.  I've always respected those that have and do serve our country, no matter my opinion on what we should, or should not, be fighting for/over.  The fact that someone will risk everything for their brothers and sisters in arms is something that everyone of every belief, every creed, every race, can respect.  Through training with vets, being trained by vets, meeting currently active operators and being inspired by those who respect them, it's a whole new thing. 

I shot a small ceremony on Sunday in White Lake for the Free Press.  Only a few people gathered to honor a few vets and were soon off to the VFW for stories and hotdogs.  None the less, a super important assignment for me.

My father and three uncles all served in WWII (yes, THAT WWII), and after witnessing GRC771 , it made me really think about their sacrifices.  One of my uncles was a bombardier and had been shot down three times through the course of his service, once resulting in him becoming a POW and effectively MIA.  That uncle and one other are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where I will be headed this week for just one day.  Simply to experience it, pay respects, take a drive and spend some time. 

Today Ian and I headed to White Chapel Cemetery in Troy to pay respects to my father and his brother Ed.  I had intended to get a couple of flags to place at their gravesites but forgot on the way and had hoped there would be some at the cemetery office, unfortunately to no avail.  We headed out in the wind, rain and sleet, brushing off the leaf and weed-covered headstones in search of my dad and uncle.

Ian already had a tradition of clearing the headstones of "forgotten" veterans on Memorial and/or Veterans' Day, so he figured he would come along.  After we had found the headstone of my dad, I had used my pocket knife to cut away all the overgrown grass.  My hands wet, cold, painful to the touch, I cleaned up the mud as best I could for the weather conditions.  As I was finishing up, I noticed Ian walking towards the headstone with something in his hand.  He walked up to the headstone and unfolded a small American flag that had been left or forgotten and, with care, placed it upon the headstone.  Pressed it down, straightened it out and stood up to make sure it was done right.  A gesture that I will neither forget nor ever truly understand the power of.  

After taking care of dad's gravesite, we set out to find Uncle Ed's.  After a bit of walking around and pushing aside leaves, we found it and I cleaned it up the same as dads.  The best I could manage with what I had.  We headed back to the car, getting out of the cold and rain and took a moment and enjoyed the warmth and shelter.  There was one thing left to do.  We headed over to the WWII monument at the cemetery to pay respects.  We ended up clearing off a couple dozen gravesites of many young soldiers whose lives had ended while fighting a threat to the world.  Brushing off the leaves, reading the names, reading the dates.  Heading back to the car once again offered reprieve from the elements.  Conditions that were far less harsh than any European winter any of those men experienced.  Far less harsh than any stifling hot day in the Pacific.

To those of you that may be reading this that serve or have served... Thank you.