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Who Would Deliver Us?

We cannot escape it. Each morning in the paper; each hour on the radio; each evening on television news: Iraq.

And every day are released more names, more photos, of loved ones destined for what more and more of this nation know as Arlington: A name usurped in the public mind from the place we live, to the cemetery that lies among us. A cemetery whose origins, Connection reporter Nicholas M. Horrock recently wrote, stemmed from the start of the Civil War, when “The Union Army had seized Arlington Hall, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home … and they had never let it go.”

Lee’s estate became the burial ground, the soil of which is carved open daily to accept another young body, whose final rest is marked by a stone upon which is engraved a slogan, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Instead of just the name, rank, military branch, date of death, war and place of death that heretofore was the staple of each marking stone, the Pentagon three years ago chose to add a slogan, used and abused by the man who likes to call himself, exclusively, “commander in chief.”

According to David Pace of the Associated Press, when these extra words — Operation Iraqi Freedom — were added, some families took offense: “”I was a little taken aback,’ said Robert McCaffrey … father of Patrick, killed in Iraq in June 2004. ‘In one way, I feel it’s taking advantage to a small degree,’” he added. “’They certainly didn’t ask my wife; they didn’t ask me.’ He said Patrick’s widow told him she had not been asked either.”

And, wrote the AP’s Pace, Vermonter “Jeff Martell, owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades said … ‘It just seems a little brazen that that’s put on stones … It seems like it might be connected to politics.’”

For more than four years our county has been seen in the public consciousness as rows of those white markers, military caissons, weeping widows, folded flags…day after day after day.

And while hearings are held, press conferences broadcast, speeches given, all seeking or questioning, “More time?,” Arlington and its cold ground keep accepting human remains from that far off place our leaders chose to invade. Each night, on the PBS NewsHour in Shirlington, another series of photographs, with names and home towns, are silently broadcast to memorialize those added to the more than three-thousand, seven-hundred military personnel “killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As the orders come from the White House on the other side of the river, they are carried out in crisp detail, by the men and women who work in this nation’s military bastion, the Pentagon, the land of which was also Arlington’s, just yards from the cemetery.

Both places are hallowed by the blood and bodies of heroes, fallen here in 2001 and ‘over there’ since March 20 of 2003.

And both places are the subjects of stagecraft by the man and his followers, who struggle to make death, weapons and anguish the fuel of misplaced patriotic fervor. One such follower, the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently referred to the human misery that is Iraq as “a small price to pay” to achieve the President’s goals.

Meanwhile the deaths and the burials in Arlington continue in sight of the Pentagon; and both in sight of Arlington neighborhoods. Ours is a unique ache, twisted a little more each day, as the caissons march to gravesites, and front pages all over this great land show the sorrow so deeply associated with the home we love, our Arlington.

So, how does this end? With a silent whimper many years and thousands of deaths later, as it was in Vietnam, when then-architect Kissenger strung out that war for the next president to ‘solve,’ while Arlington, then too, opened its perfect green sod for more lives lost in futility?

Let us not be used and abused for someone’s political gain. Let us work to stop the madness, the deaths, the endless Taps; so the heart-wrenching faces of pain in Arlington can be brought to a solemn and respectful end.


Nick Penning (www.nickpenning.com) is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in each edition of The Arlington Connection.

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