Arlington National Cemetery is awesome, and can be one of the most thought-provoking places on Earth. On Oct. 1, my wife, daughter, granddaughter and I set out to conquer Washington, D.C. At Arlington, our goal was to visit a few graves of my relatives. In the process I had the honor and privilege of witnessing a full military funeral at this magnificent place.
Any funeral with full military honors is truly a dignified and moving occasion. With my hand over my heart, a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes I observed an honor guard accompanying the flag-draped coffin carefully placed on a caisson drawn by matched black horses. A band played solemn marches while muffled drums beat the slow cadence for the procession. Before the remains are lowered, a squad fires three rifle volleys and Taps is blown by a bugler. Finally, the guard folds the flag and presents it to the family.
When I first got to Arlington, it seemed almost like I was visiting a park. After the service was complete, everything changed. I realized that I was standing on sacred ground. Every tombstone and every monument represents a life. Signs of struggle and sacrifice all in the name of freedom are everywhere.
Of particular interest to me was the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There is not enough space on this page to devote to this poignant ritual. The inscription on the tomb sums it up best: "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God."
THE NEXT DAY I found myself at a protest march at the Mall. There were a couple thousand people carrying signs. One sign read, "Stop robbing from the middle class and giving to the rich." Another: "Capitalism does not work. Socialism is the answer." The best one read, "Where is the change we voted for -- UP my check. Change America now!"
I quickly learned that protesters come in three varieties:
- those who have true passion for what they are protesting about and are sincere and committed to their cause;
- those who are angry and have a chip on their shoulder;
- paid protesters. I was shocked by the number of people there who were carrying signs and were paid to be there. They made no secret of it. They couldn't care less about the cause. They were just paid to show up and march.
I recently had the privilege to be nominated and approved for membership in the OSS Society. The OSS was the precursor to the CIA. Recently I attended the William J. Donovan Award Dinner honoring Ross Perot at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
I was among the elite of the military, a Supreme Court Justice and "wounded warriors." I have never been so proud to be surrounded by so many patriotic people who answered their country's call, and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting with Ross Perot. He is a patriot in every sense of the word. I never knew he did so much behind the scenes to assist the military.
I watched with pride and honor as Perot received the William J. Donovan Award and joined the ranks of previous recipients Gen. David Petraeus; Major Gen. John Singlaub; Presidents Reagan, Bush and Eisenhower; and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, just to name a few.
A TOAST WAS OFFERED by my friend, retired Col. Andy Anderson. Anderson asked everyone to stand, raise their glass, and toast the missing man not seated at the Missing Man's Table:
- The table is round, to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.
- The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.
- The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the lives of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of those Americans who keep the faith awaiting answers.
- The vase is tied with a red ribbon as a symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.
- A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
- A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.
- The Bible represents the strength gained through faith, and to sustain those lost from our country that was founded as one nation under God.
- The glass is inverted to symbolize their inability to share the toast.
- The chair is empty -- he is missing.
The Missing Man's Table mirrors the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: "Soldiers never die until they are forgotten." We must never forget the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. Even the nuts marching at the Mall have a right to be there.
As the midterm election approaches, please exercise your privilege to vote. Our country is heading down a dangerous path. We need to pull together, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I have tried to recapture my thoughts and emotions from my trip to our capital in hopes that it will awaken patriotism inside all of us. Please vote for those who will support and defend our Constitution. God bless America.
(The writer is an Augusta financial adviser and community activist.)