Arlington

But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…

–William Shakespeare

I had the distinct pleasure of being in our nation’s capital today. My friend and I had planned a spur of the moment trip to DC because we hadn’t been in a while and we were looking for inexpensive things to do on our day off.

I wanted to lay a flower at Arlington National Cemetery. When I say I had the distinct pleasure of being in DC, I really mean the distinct pleasure of being surrounded by some of our nation’s bravest heroes. I wanted to go to Section 60 — an area of Arlington to which I had not yet ventured. Section 60 is where many of those brave men and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. This was my generation’s war — our conflict, whatever you want to call it. This war was the most relevant to my demographic, and I wanted to take the time to visit these soldiers and express my gratitude. In a word, it did not go as planned.

I’m not saying I had a specific schedule to which I wanted to adhere — no, I didn’t want to put any sort of constraint on my time with these few, these brave. I wanted to spend as much time among their graves and family members as I could. I wanted to thank their families for raising such courageous souls — for raising a generation that stood at the ready to defend their country in spite of the threat of death.

I didn’t get to thank a thousand different people. I did get to walk among the graves and whisper words of gratitude; I got a chance to reflect on the sacrifices that each of them made. I had the distinct opportunity to learn from them — even if it was something as trivial as the conflict in which they were killed. I got to learn their names, what beer or type of snuff they liked (if applicable). And I got to know their families — like the young man whose wife or girlfriend kissed his gravestone, an everlasting reminder that real love is something that should be cherished, as we never know when our loved one will take his (or her) last breath.

I thanked one mother. I hesitated to do it — I was worried she’d take offense to my interrupting her personal time with her son. I worried she would not appreciate a stranger who knew nothing of her son thanking her for raising her son. But when push came to shove, and I realized I had only a few moments left to make a decision, I decided to go for it. I knew either way I would (at least partially) get to do what I came to do.

I approached her carefully. “Ma’am,” I said. “Which one these is your son?” She was standing between two gravestones with whom I assume was another son of hers.

She smiled at me, gesturing to the gravestone to her right. “This is.”

I offered her my hand, knowing I needed to do it or else I would cower away and chicken out. “Thank you.”

She was taken aback for only a split second before taking my hand… and pulling me to her for a hug. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

I shrugged. “No. I wanted to thank you. I’ve been to Arlington so many times, and I had not yet come to this section. I wanted to make sure I did today, at least.”

“Well, that takes a lot of courage.”

I was floored. Here was this mother — of a soldier who’d lost his life fighting an unknown enemy in a desert thousands of miles away from his home — and she was complimenting the courage I had to just say a simple thank you? 

I shook my head, already feeling the lump rising in my throat. “He was the brave one. And I just wanted to thank you for your sacrifice and his.”

I was turning into a blubbering mess. I couldn’t stay any longer. I took her hand once more and shook it before moving away from her. I had no right to cry over this man I didn’t even know. And yet there I was, close to sobbing because his own mother had complimented my courage.

I am no extraordinary person. I love and take pride in my country because of people like this woman’s son. I am not courageous. I am just me.

These soldiers — the one on whose grave I left a rose and the one whose mother thought my act of kindness was an act of courage — didn’t ask for their lot. And yet when the time came, they gladly took up their arms and fought bravely and selflessly for their country. They sacrificed themselves — a decision with which I would struggle, and yet they took it upon themselves willingly.

There are so many more families out there who have lost sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and… so many other family members. It breaks my heart to know that they will never be with their families again. I’ve said it time and again that I so wish there was more that I could do. 

But all I can do is write — and extol them for their bravery, their courage, and their sacrifice. Though I have never met them, I love them all for what they have done. Their sacrifices — their bravery, their courage, their will to fight and place themselves in certain danger — inspires me. And it makes me so, so very proud to call this country my home.

I will appreciate these brave souls for as long as I am alive. Words will never be able to express fully my gratitude for them. I will always wish that I could do more. I will always hate myself for not being able to do anything more than sing (or write) their praises for their collective sacrifice.

Memorial Day means more to me than some random day I have off from work. It means the opportunity to celebrate the lives of soldiers — past and present — who laid down their lives for my freedom. Thank you, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends of these courageous souls for your sacrifice as well. I could never write anything that would take away your pain or your hurt, but I will always be indebted to you for giving up the people you loved the most to preserve our freedom. And that means more to me than any barbecue or cook out or sale at the mall.

I can rest in peace, I’m one of the chosen ones, I made it to Arlington.”

‘Arlington’ – Trace Adkins