My friend Kim, dubbed Kim Possible (or KP) by the Monkey, is here visiting/bossing me. We met Kim and Randy (and their intrepid son, Willis) during our time under the hot Alabama sun, where we quickly became the kind of friends you keep through time and space, forever and always. When we met, Randy, Kim, and Willis were freshly repatriated Russian missionaries in the process of warming their frozen bones and establishing a drug and alcohol treatment facility that was run out of our church/their home/rented and borrowed and donated houses. It was a bootstraps organization born of love and faith and fierce determination, and little else.
Have I mentioned that I love them?
At the risk of offending your tender sensibilities, I feel I must tell you KP’s official title. What I feel is that once I tell you KP’s official title you will know her, and I really want you to know her. She’s awesome.
Badass Russian Missionary Chick.
It’s not a swear word, I promise. It’s a fact, and now that I’ve got it off my chest, we can continue with this story.
We arrived right at opening and did our best to hustle on in. What I wanted most was to give you a sense of the magnitude of reverence this place inspires when all is still and quiet. Even at 8:00am, I could tell it wasn’t going to be quiet for long.
I chose to photograph the sections that hold our nation’s WWI and WWII veterans (and many of their spouses, did you know that?) for two reasons. First, these are the closest sections to the cemetery entrance. Second, while I am familiar with Section 60, where both the graves and the mourning are freshly hewn and often gaping holes, I had no business there. Trespassing on that hallowed ground on this day felt so wrong that I coudn’t even turn my eyes in that direction.
Here, though. To see a flower resting on the headstone of a WWII soldier warmed my heart. This, my friends, is what Memorial Day is for. For honoring those who have laid down their lives on our behalf. After snapping a thousand or so shots in the hope of having one turn out well, I turned to KP and knew that the same boulder that had lodged itself in my chest had taken up residence in hers. We moved on without speaking.
When it became impossible to take a picture without people in the background, we decided it was time to pack up.
Here is the famous BARMC, playing the role of my lovely assistant and packing up the tripod. What you don’t see is her devoted calling to ensure that I abide by my doctor’s 3-pound lifting limit. For KP, this is a labor of love.
This dude with his fancy cameraman, dressed to the nines and reporting in Russian (according to my expert), has nothin’ on me. My assistant speaks Russian, too.
We laughed, happy to temporarily dislodge our boulders, and headed back toward the Visitor Center.
These young men are members of The Old Guard, Army infantrymen hand-selected to “escort the President, conduct military ceremonies at the White House, Pentagon, and national memorials in our Capitol City, including funeral details and other special ceremonies at Arlington National Cemeteries. One of their most recognized responsibilities is providing sentinels…Tomb Guards, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” (from homeofheroes.com)
If I were a different photographer, I might have been able to give you a truer sense of the winding snake of humanity that formed a line for the Tram, which would take them up, up, up the long rolling hills of what was once Robert E. Lee’s (wife’s) land, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where our president was schedule to speak.
But I’m not.
If I were a different woman, I might have realized that our president was going to be speaking at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
But I’m not.
This handsome fellow said I could take his picture, but only if I would also take his flags, which now reside in a flower planter on my front porch. I will cherish them. His uniform is that of the La Societe des Quarente Hommes et Huit Chevaux–The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, which is an elite group within the American Legion. Formed in 1920, the Forty and Eight are coming up on 100 years of doing good. By 1928, “Membership, Child Welfare, Junior Baseball, Americanism and Emergency Relief,” became key Forty & Eight programs (from wwww.fortyandeight.org). Among many other really amazing ventures (including leprosy research!), in 1955, the Forty and Eight formally established its Nurses Training Program. The uniform my new friend is sporting in this photo is that of the Sous Directeurs Nurses Training, which, nearly as I can tell, is only trumped by that of the Sous Grand Directeur Nurses Training.
Do I know how to pick my friends, or what?
This is more of the snake, and not even close to the tail. By 9:30am it wound from the Tram boarding area, around the Visitor Center, and right out to the chock-full tour bus parking lots. At this point we wondered aloud if people thought standing in line was necessary to gain entrance to the cemetery, which it was not. We tried to share the good news but stopped when it became obvious that we were about to cause chaos and mayhem on Federal property.
Among those in line were these descendants of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, armed with the free roses being passed out at every turn. When offering their roses, the lovely volunteers asked only that you place one on a grave and take one home for yourself. While we loved the sentiment, KP and I chose to leave all our roses at Arlington, where they belonged.
And here you have it: the snake’s tail. As I snapped this last shot, the boulder returned to my chest. I was so glad we’d come. I’d whispered my thanks and offered my roses, all the while knowing that the honor, truly, was all mine.