The scene of the thousands of white marble headstones that cover the green rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery is chilling at any time of year.
But that hallowed ground takes on an even more awe-inspiring look during this month each year, when members of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) go about their special duty of reverently placing an American flag at each grave site.
In honor of Memorial Day, more than 250,000 flags have been planted in front of headstones.
Many loved ones will flock there Monday to pay homage not only to those they know who are buried there, but also to all the others — some who will have no visitors, but certainly have not been forgotten because of those soldiers who came bearing flags.
Hold on to that image and scenes like it in many of the country’s other 146 national cemeteries, including the one in Dallas-Fort Worth, for we must not forget the true meaning of the sacred holiday that falls on the last Monday in May.
Unfortunately, for many it is just another day off from work or school, making for a rare three-day weekend filled with fun and food, or perhaps hours of simply doing nothing.
Regardless of how you spend the day, at least take a moment to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that you might have the freedom to do whatever you choose.
And there are so many to remember: almost 1.3 million who have died in our nation’s wars since the revolution that won our independence from Great Britain. More than 600,000 died in the Civil War, when Americans fought each other.
With fresh recollection of our two most recent wars, the longest in the nation’s history, it is imperative that we not only remember, but also pay tribute to those who didn’t make it back, and those who came home damaged and changed forever.
At Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, thousands will gather for the annual moving ceremony of laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery also will have its yearly observance Monday morning.
In Fort Worth, Greenwood Mausoleum’s Independence Chapel this weekend is hosting the traveling exhibit of “Remembering Our Fallen From Texas,” which includes photos of almost 600 Texans who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
President Obama on Friday proclaimed this Memorial Day “as a day of prayer for permanent peace,” and he called on people to unite in prayer beginning at 11 a.m. local time.
In his proclamation honoring our fallen heroes, the president said:
“With heavy hearts and a sense of profound gratitude, we mourn these women and men — parents, children, loved ones, comrades-in-arms, friends and all those known and unknown — who believed so deeply in what our country could be they were willing to give their lives to protect its promise. Our hearts ache in their absence, but their spirit gives us strength to continue their work of securing and renewing the liberties that all Americans cherish and for which these heroes gave their last full measure of devotion.”
The president has ordered that flags be flown at half staff until noon that day.
So, no matter how you choose to spend this holiday, every time you pass one of those flags, give thanks to those who made it possible for that banner to continue to wave.