Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arlington Cemetery

A new blog I found a while back posted about their birthday and a mix they had created of "Cake" tunes. Stick (I will call him that because his blog name is too convoluted for me to remember) Anyway Stick mentioned Cake's cover of "War Pigs" and how he had liked it, but did not include it in his mix. The mix was I guess for him and his son L, who's birthday fell on the day before his. Okay fine, G rated for the wee ones. I can dig that.

This will make some sense to you and maybe me in a moment or two. And connections to the point of this post will be made clear.

So Stick mentions "War Pigs". It fires up a memory of a post of mine from last year and I go searching the blog archive. I find my post. Titling it "War Pigs" did make it easier to find among the 600 plus posts in this over filled bag of words. In short, in case and most likely because you do not want to visit that post, in a nutshell it was a stroll down memory lane and comments in general about the tune "War Pigs" and other related and semi related garbage. The usual drivel.

Of course I could not re-visit an old post that had not one but at least two links to music videos without running through them one more time. I watched the Cake version of "War Pigs". Yes, I was right. It is a very good cover and the video was appropriate given the lyrics. Then I punched up Black Sabbath's studio version with more up to date war film attached. Proof the tune will stand the test of time and go down as a wonderful condemnation of War and those who wage it. The final scenes in the video were of funerals, soldiers and Arlington Cemetery.

Though I spent good portion of my youth at different times living and existing in and around the DC area, I have only visited Arlington Cemetery twice in my life. I once almost died at what many consider it's entrance when the car we were in did not stop after coming off the Arlington Memorial Bridge. My friend was driving his brand new GTO and wanted to see how fast he could go before we hit the end of the bridge. Up onto the circle, throwing grass and making ruts, we somehow escaped death, the cops and our own stupidity. But that is another tale.

I have been to Arlington twice. Both times to bury loved ones. First my father in 1981 with full honors. Ten years later I put my mom to rest next to him. As a general officer he and his surviving spouse were entitled to this honor.

I have mixed feelings about this. My father did not want to be interred anywhere. He said on numerous occasions he wanted his lifeless body donated to some medical school somewhere. But as it was not stipulated in his will, my mom did what she felt would get her through this I guess. Placing his remains in Arlington was one way to find some closure for her. And she insisted we put her next to the man she fought with for my whole lifetime when the time came. Hmm. I always wondered if this was just so she could continue to irritate him in the afterlife.

I have been to more than a few memorials, funerals and wakes. A military funeral is like no other. There is no celebration. No emotional hysteria. Quiet tears of friends and family while soldiers high and tight stand at attention and fire their rifles. Somber patriotism with respectful but no bullshit "get er done" competency. The words spoken are brief and to the point. Flags are removed from caskets, folded with precision and handed to grieving widows. For some reason, I witnessed this and pride for my father and my country spilled forth. Tears ran down my face in streams. Quiet streams. Falling apart emotionally would be disrespectful to the military and the man we were honoring. I could feel my back straighten up some when the rifles were shouldered to fire the first salvo. I could feel some great weight leave me as the sound of those final shots died over the Potomac. I was sure that the man I knew who wrestled with demons every day of his life was now put to rest with the honor he deserved by the country he loved.


Dawn on MDI said...

Oof. Gut punch. Magnificent post.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

I am familir with the dignity of a military funeral. My older brother, a marine survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, was given a military funeral, and I most definitely remember the simple, yet elegant precision of the ceremony, the 21 gun salute, the folding of the flag-----impressive in its dignity.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that I finally had a few hours of "me" time, and I spent it here, reading everything. You seem to have lived everywhere and learned your lessons young. From a correctly tied holster to keeping the rubber on the road, to burying your father and understanding the "reason for ritual". It holds our insides in when the seams of life start unraveling.

I so enjoyed learning more about you.

Utah Savage said...

Beautiful, powerful post. Nice comments thread as well, especially what Dana said. I have avoided all ritual. Once I yearned for it. Looked for it in religion and never found what I was looking for. I have been to only one funeral in my adult life. That might make you think I have been lucky to have lost only one loved one. But of course someone my age has lost many loved ones. I just can't mourn in a crowd, so I mourn alone. Having married thrice, I have no respect or love for the rituals surrounding the marriage ceremony and no longer attend weddings. I put those two rituals on my "I do not do this" list and keep to myself.

You were visiting my novel there for awhile. And then you stopped abruptly. It would be very helpful to know what it was you read that stopped you in your tracks. Editorially helpful. I want readers to finish the book. If I have written something badly or written something that is so awful that you can't go on, or that is boring, I need to know what it is, so I can remove or rewrite it. Would you be so kind? I'd really appreciate it.

MRMacrum said...

Dawn - I am a slave to images.

Old Dude - The military knows how to not only bury it's dead, but how to honor them.

dana - Thanks for swinging by. Your praise may be off the mark some. I often do not understand squat until I sit down and write it out. Maybe it is because if I read it, it must be so.

Utah - I stopped reading, but not for good. I had to take a break. Your novel has hit me hard in the gut. Brought up much from my past I had forgotten or had shoved to the background. When I have sorted myself out, I will be back. That is a promise.

My reaction to your writing should be a positive "atta girl". Not all we read should be easy. Just as not all we write should be either.

anita said...

that was a gorgeous post, mrmacrum. i've never been to a military funeral, but i almost always choke up a bit when i see one on tv.

i know many people just want to be cremated and scattered, like 'dust in the wind.' in fact, just yesterday i read that nelson rockefeller was cremated and his remains were scattered around the massive rockefeller estate in westchester, new york. i clearly was never a nelson rockefeller fan, but that kind of saddened me for some reason.

maybe it's because deep down, i think everyone should be given a dignified means of passing into the other world.

but what's dignified to some, may be meaningless to another.

and i'm gonna do what dana did ... keep pokin' around your site. i like what i've seen so far.

Utah Savage said...

After reading Anita's comment I need to say a bit more about my response to death and its aftermath. As some may know from my place and the kinds of things I write about, I took care of my mother as she slowly left her mind but stayed in her body. She had vascular dementia, as has every woman on my mother's side of the family. It was excruciating to watch a once beautiful, highly intelligent and accomplished woman become an incontinent moron. She was essentially dead long before her body stopped eating and excreting. She told me long before any of this took place that she had donated her body to the University of Utah for research and anatomy classes and spare parts. And I did find the papers. So when the body stopped being able to chew, she quickly became a hospice patient and died within three days. The University was called and notified of her death. They came and wrote the death certificate, took her body and relieved me of the crushing expense of cremation or burial. Death is an expensive undertaking. There is a massive death industry. I wrote her obituary for her fiends. I tried to keep myself entirely out of that obit. I focused on her incredible achievements and her pioneering feminism in Utah. It cost over three hundred dollars to publish a medium sized obit with a photo. I had to borrow to pay for it. I immediately called the U and donated my body. I have no children. I am the last of my line. There will be friends who will miss me, but I'm so happy no one will need to go broke trying to deal with my death. I may even write and prepay my obit. If I have one small tiny stroke or TIAA, I will take my own life. I would not wish my mother's death on anyone. Certainly not myself.

J at said...

Oh, what a wonderful, heartbreaking post. I've never been to a military funeral, but when I see them in movies, they always make me want to cry. The dignity, the honor, the ceremony, all have a sad beauty that hits hard.

I've been to Arlington, as a tourist, and it's such an impressive, sad sight.

For some stupid reason, I thought that only people who died in war were buried at Arlington (aside from the Kennedys). So it gives me some peace to know that soldiers that die years and years later are buried there as well. I know I always looked at all of the crosses and thought of the waste of war, and I still do...but it's comforting to know that there's more to it than that.

Stickthulhu said...

Wow, what an amazing post...

This past spring, I had the honor of being the official escort (flag presenter) at a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He was not a war casualty, but a veteran of the Korean War - he was somewhat known to me, and I offered to do so for the family. Saying the required lines was hard, and this guy had lived a full life and his death was not unexpected. I can't possibly imagine how hard it must feel to say them to the mother or spouse of a 20-year old whose life was tragically cut short.

I was very impressed with the Navy's Ceremonial Guard and the job they do; what a dedicated group. Doing numerous funerals in a day, lifting and moving caskets, they need to be in tremendous shape. A little known secret, but the wait for burial is several months in Arlington; sometimes the conditions of the remains is not too great at burial and requires a different sort of toughness.

It's a hard job for them, and for man of these "kids" on the Honor Guard it's the first assignment they pick out of boot camp. My hat is off to them.

Oh, and I think I mentioned on Dawn's blog you can call me "Bull". In fact, I may just change my name on blogger...been called that all my life.

Oh yeah, and you mentioned you were having trouble "following" me; but my profile shows you as a follower. Hope it's worked out.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Terrific and very moving post, Crum. I have never attended a military funeral, but I have watched a number of them on TV. They've all been very, very moving.

I had the privilege to visit Arlington National Cemetery in August 1988, on my way home after a cross-country road trip (in a car that no sensible person would have driven out of town). The cemetery is very beautiful. What struck me most was the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the honour given to the interred soldiers by the guards. On the day of my visit, I got to see first hand how inclement weather does not interrupt the guarding of the tomb. We had a sudden and very violent thunderstorm and downpour, causing all of the tourists to take cover. We could still see the guard, though: he continued his meticulous walk through the rain and made no reaction at all to the weather.