For anyone still feeling the weight of the bitter, divisive presidential campaign that ended earlier this week, President Barack Obama said Friday that Veterans Day should offer some solace.
In his remarks at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the day, Obama noted that by both ethnicity and faith, the military is “the single most diverse institution in our country.” Particularly after elections, Obama said veterans offer a unifying example what’s right with the U.S.
“Veterans Day often follows a hard-fought political campaign. An exercise in the free speech and self-government that you fought for. It often lays bare disagreements across our nation,” the president said. “But the American instinct has never been to find isolation in opposite corners. It is to find strength in our common creed. To forge unity from our great diversity. To sustain that strength and unity, even when it is hard.”
“And when the election is over, as we search for ways to come together, to reconnect with one another and with the principles that are more enduring than transitory politics,” he continued. “Some of our best examples are the men and women we salute on Veterans Day.”
John Glenn lies in repose in the rotunda of the Ohio state capitol in Columbus Friday, December 16. The astronaut will have a public memorial Saturday at
Ohio State University before burial at Arlington National Cemetery early next week.
“On Veterans Day, we acknowledge, humbly, that we can never serve our veterans in quite the same that they served us. But we can try. We can practice kindness. We can pay it forward. We can volunteer. We can serve. We can respect one another. We can always get each other’s backs.” —President Obama honoring America’s veterans at Arlington National Cemetery: go.wh.gov/VeteransDay
It’s easy to forget that cemeteries were made for the living. Where first we may come in sorrow, seeking consolation, we often return again and again for something else.
We discover that places of eternal rest have many moods and designs — the moneyed hush of Oak Hill in Georgetown, the canine frolic of Congressional near Capitol Hill, the fields of infinite sacrifice at Arlington — yet in whichever idiosyncratic refuge we linger awhile, we sense the dead watching and taking our measure as well, keeping us company as much as we keep them.
“I just came to say ‘Hi’ to my dad,” says Christina Incognito, 53, eating a picnic salad with her son, Tyler, 20, on a blanket spread over the Arlington National Cemetery grave of Robert Eugene Bornsheuer, senior master sergeant, U.S. Air Force (May 21, 1927-April 5, 2012).
They drive down often from suburban Maryland to happily reminisce about the departed veteran. Incognito is awed by the crisp beauty of the ranks of white stones that seem paused in a timeless march.
“It gives me hope,” she says. “That there’s still kindness, that people take care of people who are not here.”
Hope is a concept that Romantics, Victorians and plutocrats brought to cemetery design in the 19th century. Before then, urban burial grounds were dismal, overcrowded labyrinths wedged into churchyards, scarcely meeting the minimum requirements of either municipal sanitation or reverent remembrance. Carved stone skulls and images of stalking Death adorned the tombs like dire warnings.
Romantic designers with Victorian taste and plutocratic capital launched the movement toward so-called garden cemeteries or rural cemeteries within the city. Monuments and mausoleums were set along curving paths within picturesque landscapes, the more topography the better. Stones were decorated with cherubs and angels and hopeful messages of gone-but-not-forgotten.
These green oases — places like Oak Hill, Mount Olivet and Rock Creek cemeteries — became the first large-scale parks of great American cities, places to stroll and court and relax, before actual parks came along, inspired in part by the restorative and aesthetic possibilities of cemeteries.
Wreaths Across America placed a wreath on every grave in the Houston National Cemetery for Christmas. I don’t know how many that is, in 2014 there were over 85,000 interments there, so it’s a lot. The effect makes for a moving experience. A friend of mine participated in the wreath laying, he reported there were lots of dudes walking around with bowed heads and dabbing at their eyes.
“If you want to get the job done, hire a vet. If you’re a business that needs team players that know how to lead and execute an idea, hire a vet,” Obama said. “Every sector, every industry, every community can benefit from the incredible talents of our veterans.”
Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) have a duty to respectfully honor America’s sons and daughters who have lost their lives in defense of this great nation. “Flags In” is a four hour event in which over 1,000 Soldiers from The Old Guard remember Service-members in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. by placing a flag on the over 228,000 headstones in the cemetery. Soldiers in The Old Guard have held this honor and privilege of conducting “Flags In” since 1948.
“If you’re a business that needs team players who know how to lead and execute an idea, hire a vet. If you’re a school system that needs dedicated, passionate teachers, hire a veteran. If you’re a non-profit that needs leaders who have been tested and can follow through on a vision, hire a veteran. Every sector, every industry, every community can benefit from the incredible talents of our veterans. They’re ready to serve, and they’ll make you proud.” —President Obama on Veterans Day
Women from the first all-female honor flight in the United Sates watch a Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Sept. 22, 2015, in Arlington, Va. There were 75 female veterans from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War in attendance, as well as 75 escorts, who were also female veterans or active-duty military.