This is my story about my parents, my husband’s father, and what Veteran’s Day means to me.
My husband, father, uncles, grandfather, and so on are all military veterans and my niece just finished her service in the U.S. Navy. I grew up as a military dependent and I married a military man. Patriotism was and continues to be part and parcel of my way of life.
My father and mother are buried together at Arlington National Cemetery (U.S. Army) and my husband’s father (U.S. Air Force) is buried very close by across the road from them—a bit of sad synchronicity in our life.
My parents were introduced by my mom’s sister and her husband on July 4, 1951 at the Fort Myers Officer’s Club in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Their first date was the next day—sitting on a bench in the park at Arlington National Cemetery reading the newspaper together. My father was serving at Arlington at the time and my mother was in nursing school. They married 17 days after meeting and shared 53 years of love and life together.
Mom and Dad died 8 days apart in two separate hospitals in 2004—a separate nightmare on its own. When we told him Mom had died, Dad took off his watch and threw it on the floor—time had stopped for him.
I will never forget the look of pride and gratitude in his eyes when he discovered that he and Mom would be buried together at Arlington National Cemetery—full circle on their love story. Besides telling him about Mom’s death, this conversation about his impending death was one of the hardest things my brother, sisters, and I have ever had to do.
This is a picture of the cemetery on Veteran’s Day from the U.S. Army. I have pictures of my parent’s and my husband’s father’s military funerals at Arlington and their grave sites but I cannot bear to post them.
A funeral at Arlington National Cemetery is one that no one who experiences it will ever forget—it is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreakingly sad.
A procession of The Old Guard Caisson Platoon winds itself around the cemetery park in total silence. The only sound you hear are the horses’ hooves: clip clop…clip clop…clip clop.
I walked every inch of those miles behind the horse-drawn cart carrying my parents’ bodies while holding desperately to my husband’s hand.
At the end of the interment service, a gun salute is fired—seven service members fire three volleys each. After that a lone bugler standing off to one side plays Taps, a sound that will haunt me until my own end time comes.
As I write this, I am crying. I cry for all those who have died for reasons of war and I cry for the loss of my beloved and much-missed parents. There is not one single day or night in my life since they died that I don’t mourn. There’s a ragged hole in my heart nothing can ever heal.
Today I honor my parents, my husband’s father, and all those before and after who sacrifice their time with family and/or their lives in the horrors of war. My family and my husband’s family know first-hand the heartache of saying goodbye to a family member and spending a year or more at a time fearing they won’t return.
I’m grateful to those courageous men and women who serve in the military and provide us with the freedom to sleep safely at night. May those now in harm’s way be blessed with a safe return home. And may their families be blessed for the sacrifices they give and the heartache they suffer in having to say goodbye.
There’s a sign they post at Arlington National Cemetery during funeral services that simply says, “Silence and Respect.” That is my plan for today.