Friday morning we dragged ass outta bed to make a very emotional visit to Arlington National Cemetary. We were on a mission. LL has been writing emails to a Gold Star Mom for about a year now, and we had promised her we would visit her son's grave. She told us it was in "x" section, near the road, "about 5 or 6 rows back, but I remember when it was the last." doh.
We found the site, mourned the loss of another family's son and brother, for quite some time. Not too far from his site, I stumbled across Taylor Prazynski's grave. Having met Taylor's dad a couple of times, I was brought to tears once more. Taylor's dad had promised to meet his unit upon their return from Iraq. He honored that promise, even though Taylor didn't come home with them. Time and time again, I am humbled by these Gold Star parents.
Other than the sight of those two graves, the thing that made the most impact on me was seeing how "active" the cemetary was. We saw 3 new sites being dug, one set up for a service later that day, and a row of 5 fresh graves from the past week. It was a very personal experience, leaving me raw with emotion.
Oh. Then there was the "Canadian". As we were leaving Arlington, a very well dressed, clean-cut young man stopped us, asking "What should I see here?" The others continued on, but I stopped to answer his question. I figured he just didn't have a lot of time to browse and wanted to see something out of the ordinary at Arlington, so I said that the Women's Memorial is fantastic and has wonderful traveling shows in the lobby. He seemed interested, so I also mentioned the Challenger astronaut memorial. Then I said "Of course, if it's your first trip here, you have to go see the changing of the guard." This is where the conversation took an odd turn.
He said "The what?"
LL, in all of her PC-correctedness, nearly wrecked the car when I told her a few minutes later, and said "WHAT!?!?! I HOPE YOU BITCH-SLAPPED THE BOY!" LOLOL... so subtle, that girl.
After a slight recovery, I said "You know- at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The changing of the guard ceremony." He said, "The Unknown Soldier?"
Trying to remain calm I said "It's a memorial to those we have lost during war but have not recovered their bodies. A few unknown soldiers are buried there, as a reminder of the thousands whose remains are in foreign countries or under the sea, unable to be returned to the States." Then I turned and walked away, adding "Enjoy your visit", stunned beyond believe that ANYONE could POSSIBLE visit Arlington and NOT know about the Tomb.
SK swears he was Mormon. I'm waffling between Canadian (simply because he spoke perfect english but without an accent), Martian, and Moron. Perhaps those "martians stole my body" conspiracy theorists are onto something.. Good Lord.
On to the next stop- Walter Reed.
When raw with emotion, one wouldn't typically follow that up by a visit to Walter Reed, but that's what we did. We picked up Sgt. Hook, in full dcu's, and headed off to Malogne House. Mike Sparling lead us through the hospital, introducing us to about 20 or so patients. I was afraid of how I'd react to seeing these patients, but that fear was quickly cast aside when I realized how strong, courageous, independent, and proud they are.
Without prompting, other than a "Hi, I'm AFSis. Thanks for your service- would you like a cigar, or a t-shirt?"... they opened up to us. They ALL- and I mean EVERY LAST ONE- said that the care they've received at WR is world-class, and wanted to make sure that EVERYONE knows that. They were more upset that Soldiers have allowed themselves to fall through the cracks than they were that Soldiers *have* fallen through the cracks. These men were severely injured- brain trauma and amputees for the most part- and MANY have been at WR for nearly 2 years. Not ONE complained. AT ALL. Not ONE blasted the "BushHalliburton War Monger Machine". Not ONE lamented their new physical form. Not ONE wanted a medical discharge. Not.ONE. They *all* wanted to be reinstated with their prior unit, so they could get back into the fight again.
America, you need to listen to these kids. Listen and LEARN from their young years, which have aged them 20 years or more.
After WR, John Bell picked me up at the hotel and took me back to their house for a wonderful dinner with Leta and Sammy D. We laughed, we shared, we hugged, and we sampled Taco's bed as a threesome. hehe... Virginia will never be the same. Getting to meet some of my favorite Church Ladies (term loosely applied, mind you) was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend!
Friday night brought all of the Conference attendees together in one place for the first time. I met up with, in no particular order, and I know I'll forget someone....
Mrs. American Soldier
Baby American Soldier
Chuck & Carren Z
Consul at Arms
CENTCOM electronic comm officer
Dept. of Defense Public Affairs Officer
Some Soldier's Mom
and many, MANY more..... I blame my faltering mind on JackStar, who failed to provide me with enough real, recorded conversations to remind me of everyone I met. Of course, it could just be the Yingling.