Captain George S. Harris: Flags In–Memorial Day 2012
MEMORIAL DAY 2012
When Mrs. Moon asked me if I would write a piece for Memorial Day, I was at a loss for words and then I remembered that this weekend, the members of the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard, will be joined by service members from the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard in placing more than 260,000 grave decorating flags in front of the gravestones and another 7,300 flags at the niches in the columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition, 13,500 flags will be placed at the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Cemetery near the Soldier’s and Airmen’s Home in Washington, DC. These 280,800 flags represent about one-fourth of all the men and women who have died in the service of their nation. Not all died on active duty, some died many years later, but they all have one thing in common—they were all willing to lay down their life for their nation and many have done just that.
Arlington National Cemetery was once the home of Colonel and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In what seems a fit of pique, Quarter Master General Montgomery Meigs recommend in 1864 that 200 acres of the Lee plantation be confiscated to serve as a burial site for Union soldiers. Over the last 148 years, presidents, congressmen, senators, generals, admirals, astronauts, and privates all lay here side by side in neat rows; their white marble headstones silently marching off to the horizon. A black world heavyweight boxing champion lies here along with World War II’s most decorated soldier. A movie star tough guy and former World War II Marine is buried here. Private William Christman, the first Confederate soldier buried at Arlington lies in a silent grave. Section 60 of the cemetery is dedicated to those who have laid down their lives in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There are many monuments here. There, on a hill, stands the monument to four, “know but to God”. It is silently guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by young soldiers of the Old Guard. There is a vault near the Lee home, now know as Arlington House, that contains the remains of 2, 011 Confederate soldiers. In Section 46 stands a monument to those seven astronauts who, “slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings…and touched the face of God.” Five Marines and one Navy Hospital Corpsman stand, frozen in bronze, raising the American flag over Mount Surabachi. The mast of the U.S.S. MAINE and the remains of more than 200 of its crew serve as a reminder of the Spanish American War. An eternal flames burns for a president shot down in Dallas. Nearby lies his infant son, his wife and two brothers. A carillon of 50 bells, a gift of the Netherlands, rings out the passing hours.
These gravestones and their Memorial Day flags; these monuments are there to mark this Nation’s most hallowed ground but for all their glory, they do not do complete justice to this place. At the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln said,
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who her gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
Therefore, as we celebrate this Memorial Day, let us remember President Lincoln’s words on that day long ago,
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shal not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This land and the land surrounding the plantation has become America’s most hallowed ground.