A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending the funeral of an American Hero at Arlington National Cemetery. We all gathered in one of the family rooms until it was time to drive or walk to the staging area where the Old Guard so reverently and honorably transferred the remains of the fallen Hero from the hearse to the caisson.
The Color Guard began to move down the street in Arlington National Cemetery followed by the band. The horse drawn caisson fell in behind the band with the Hero's widow and her parents following closely accompanied by representatives of the Old Guard. The rest of us fell behind them.
We walked a short distance and topped a hill. At the bottom of that hill I saw 4 or 5 tour buses. People began spilling out of them and running to the corner of the street we were on and one that intersected it. These people were in cut off shorts, tank tops, baseball caps, etc. They couldn't get their cameras up and clicking fast enough. All of this in direct sight of the Hero's family, battle buddies and friends.
One of the representatives of the Old Guard, while continuing to walk along side the family, moved out to the side and motioned SEVERAL times for those wearing caps to remove them. They finally did. Then the father of the widow, himself a retired Army officer, yelled to the gawkers, "NO PICTURES". Most put their cameras away. A couple of others just had to get "one more shot".
How dare they disrespect a fallen Hero and his family like that?
Last weekend I went to Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects to several of our fallen Heroes. I made my way to the Columbarium first. On the way I encountered a tour group. The tour group leader was holding up a piece of paper and yelling in Spanish. I can only assume he yelling for the group to come closer as that is what they did. He then began to, VERY LOUDLY, talk to them. They were ahead of me so as I approached I asked him if he would mind speaking a bit softer out of respect for those laid to rest. He ignored me.
I continued on to the Columbarium more than a little annoyed. After paying my respects there I moved to Section 60 to pay my respects. It was a beautiful day and a bald eagle was circling over Section 60. So honorable. There were a lot of people in Section 60. Everyone was quiet and respectful as they laid flowers, touched their hands to tombstones, hugged one another, softly weeped, tied balloons, etc.
I then decided to walk to the Tomb of the Unknowns for the Changing of the Guard. I've seen the Changing of the Guard several times but wanted to go again. I had a very peaceful walk. Along the way I "met' two ladies who were at Arlington to visit their husbands. I expressed my condolences, gave them a hug and continue on through the tree lined street to the Tomb.
As I approached the Tomb I saw that the crowd was immense. I've never seen a crowd so large at the Tomb. I got to thinking that I've never been to Arlington on a weekend. Then I saw people pushing and shoving to get closer. I heard people, who apparently got separated in the crowd, YELLING for each other. Seriously? Can you (who are speaking English) not read English? There are signs as you enter the area that CLEARLY state that you are to be quiet and reverent.
As the Changing of the Guard ceremony began I knew I was not going to be able to see it so I decided to take a seat on a bench nearby. I would pay my respects afterwards. As I walked over to the amphitheater I encounter high school aged boys joking and carrying on in a loud manner - jumping up on the railings to take photos, etc. I quietly reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and should be respectful. They dismissed me but left.
I made my way to a bench. As I was sitting there I looked up and saw a bald Eagle circling overhead. WOW! Twice in one day. Soon after that the ceremony was over and the crowd began to disburse. A group of high school boys came walking down the sidewalk and past the bench I was on. One was spouting profanities right and left. I quietly reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and not at an amusement park. They glared at me and continued on their way.
I paid my respects at the Tomb and began to make my way back to the visitor's center. From behind I heard a young man "rapping". Again, with language that was not so clean. I turned around to see a group of 4 or 5 young men. I stopped and reminded them that they were on hallowed ground and should be respectful of where they were. One of them decided he was going to "set me straight" about me having no authority to ask them to be quiet. BAD IDEA! I very calmly (because I KNEW WHERE WE WERE) explained that I was not asking them to be quiet all together - that I was asking them to be respectful. Then I shared a story with them about one of the Heroes I had visited earlier. They walked away a bit quieter. I was so angry.
As I continued on to the visitor's center I heard a young man behind me say, "Dude! Take a picture of that. Look at all of those dead people." I took a very deep breath and turned around to explain that each of those "dead people" was someone who had honorably served this nation. I explained that many of those "dead people" had given their lives in service to this nation. I continued on with how each of those "dead people" had a name, a family and friends who love them and miss them.
And then I dropped the bomb by asking them if they would like to go with me to visit a few "dead people" who I knew personally and that I had come to visit and pay my respects to that day. Yep, the proverbial pin drop moment. One of the young men did apologize as they scurried away.
I realize that Arlington National Cemetery is a public place. I realize that anyone who wishes to visit may do so for whatever reason they have. But dang it, how would YOU feel if I visited a cemetery where your loved ones were buried and acted like that? And how would you feel if you were at a cemetery laying to rest someone you love and I showed up in cut off shorts, a tank top and a baseball cap snapping photos of you as you grieve?
I know we have lost respect in this nation but I will not stop hoping that one day we will have it back especially on such hallowed ground.