In years past, as an active duty member of our armed forces, and in recent years as a military retiree, I have had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. and the many monuments dedicated there to the service of our men and women who have sacrificed all in the defense of our nation.
Whenever I go to Arlington, I hear mournful bugles, the clacking of the heels of boots worn by the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the respectful soft voices of the visitors. Increasingly though, I hear the silence, a silence that now begins to haunt me.
Neither the knowledge of the human sacrifice represented by the graves of our nation’s honored warriors or the images of the sacrifices of those who today similarly serve stir in me the same level of anxiety I now feel as that silence grows.
The Vietnam and Korean War memorials bring tears to my eyes and deep emotions because of my personal association or service with those who served in those awful conflicts. I no longer can linger at those remarkable national sites because of my painful, inner most personal feelings. The World War II and Iwo Jima memorials bring no such level of emotions; for me they represent my father’s generation and belong to those who lived those terrible experiences. Arlington is another matter. When I am there, the silence I now hear from across the nation raises a fear that haunts me.
That silence is expressed in the increasing lack of value my countrymen and national leaders are placing on the service and sacrifice of those who rest on that hallowed hillside. I’m haunted by this silence at a time when all Americans should loudly be demanding the defense of our values, our constitutional rights and freedoms. These were earned through sacrifice, and the Arlington warriors have protected them at great costs.
I fear that one day soon, we as a nation will no longer cherish what these warriors have given us, what they did for us. Recent conflicts have seen an outpouring of support for our veterans. At the same time, politicians and citizens increasingly denigrate our heritage while supporting false prophets who mock the nation’s social foundations and ignore the birthrights our warriors defended, too often with their lives.
I fear a day will soon come when the silence I now hear is fully embedded across our nation. By then too many Americans will be unable to hear the cries for freedom. Patriotic feelings will no longer be aroused or expressed. A world of silence will exist. The ghosts of Arlington will cry, but we will not hear their mournful sounds.
When our government and those citizens who demand silence finally achieve what they seek, we all should be haunted by our failure to preserve what those warriors gave us. Arlington represents the heartbeat of a nation past, a heartbeat messaging sacrifices we seem to forget or ignore. It is a ghostly heartbeat increasingly fewer Americans can hear. And I am haunted by the sound of silence.
Russ Gregory lives in Kalispell