Whenever I have the opportunity to go to Washington, DC, I try to build in a little extra time to visit old friends. They’ll be waiting for me as always at the former home of General Robert E. Lee.
General Lee’s former home is still called Arlington, but its full name is The Arlington National Cemetery.
My childhood friends are buried there, along with more than 400,000 other active duty service members, veterans and their families.
According to the Arlington National Cemetery website (www.arlingtoncemetery.mil), they’re joined by as many as 30 new companions each weekday.
It’s a beautifully maintained 624 acre vista that, no matter the season, brings home the sacrifice of others that have made to preserve all our freedom.
Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC, is the resting place of more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families. It's a sobering reminder of the true cost of freedom. Arlington National Cemetery photo by Elizabeth Frazer with permission.
On Monday, the nation will take time out from the “unofficial kickoff weekend of summer” to remember those who died in service of the country, either in battle or as a result of their wounds.
Many years ago, when I was a child, it was the first weekend of summer - and we picnicked at our local church. Back then, we called it “dinner on the grounds”.
My memories of those weekend include sweet tea by the gallon, heaping bowls of potato salad, mounds of fried chicken, pies and cakes of all sorts, and the ladies of the church (a euphemism for the older widows) happily serving the rest of us. They were all wore a little artificial poppy on their shirts and I still remember how they’d occasionally reach up and touch them as they watched us play.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized those ladies had all lost husbands in World War II.
Wearing the poppy was a tradition carried over from World War I. The poppy flower was apparently the first living thing to reemerge from the European fields ravaged in that war.
It, and Canadian World War I veteran Doctor John McRae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” became symbols of life - and remembrance- after that horror.
For those ladies, the artificial poppies represented very real losses.
As we played, we had no way of knowing that more than one of the kids racing around during those picnics would be going off to a faraway place called Vietnam. I never dreamed some of them would be leaving behind their own wives. Some of them were our playmates at that time. They would become the next generation of the ladies of the church. And I never dreamed that while I would lose touch with many childhood friends, three others would have the same permanent addresses I still visit whenever I can- nearly a half-century later.
Schools begin their summer vacations later today. And this weekend, our neighborhood kids will truly be enjoying their “first weekend of summer” -even in the sweltering Tennessee heat.
We’ll probably join in some of the fun as they ride bikes, skate and play in our cul de sac. It’s a safe haven, and made even more so by the barricades we’ll erect further up the street tomorrow morning to keep traffic to a minimum.
Like the friends of my childhood, they’ll play with little thought of what others sacrificed to bring them another weekend of simply being children.
I’m happy we all have the privilege of enjoying a peaceful family weekend, too.
But as I walk by my office, I’ll catch a glimpse of my father’s flag. And I’ll flashback to memories of playing with Teddy, Steve, and Jimmy. That’s why the next time I’m in Washington, I’ll make time to visit them. I’ll catch them up on what’s been happening, and thank them - again- for their service. It’s the least I can do for such good friends.
Have a great weekend, but take time to remember the ones who gave their futures to preserve ours.