Monday, November 20, 2006

Today is His Twentieth Birthday

Today I went to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

I felt compelled to go pay my respects to some of our war dead from Iraq.

As I arrived at Arlington I asked an official where they were burying our men and women from Iraq. He gave me a map and showed me the spot.

At the section with Americans killed recently I passed an old lady. She was sitting in a lawn chair at the grave of her husband, likely a WW II veteran. She was sobbing--just sitting there, broken and grief stricken. With her chair, she looked like she was going to be spending much time there today.

This side of the section, one of perhaps a hundred such sections in our national graveyard, included older men and their wives from earlier wars and earlier service to the country. At the opposite side, with thousands of headstones in between, there were around ten people, lots of fresh flowers covering fresh graves, and other evidence of recent deaths.

I headed over.

The first headstone I saw of a soldier killed in Iraq was from a man born in November 1968, 2.5 years after me. He was 37.

I saw many brand new graves that were as recent as four days old. They had temporary markers.

Four days old. A recent rain collapsed the dirt along the edges leaving a clearly demarked depression—each with a coffin below, most with flowers piled on top. These men (I saw no women) were killed in late October, less than a month ago. With over a hundred killed that month, some found Arlington as their final resting place.

I saw flowers to a father from a mother and son.

We love you. We miss you.

I saw a family visiting the grave of their son, and brother.

They obsessively arranged and rearranged flower arrangements. He was killed two months ago. What else can we do?

Then I saw a young man. He was crouched down, talking, praying, in communion with a dead man.

I continued slowly down the line. As I approached he stood up, self conscious.

I asked if he was a relative.

No, he was my friend.

I said I was sorry.

He said today is his 20th birthday.

Seeing him forlorn in his loss, hearing it was his friend’s birthday, left me speechless, and choked up.

I drifted away weaving through hundreds of graves. I counted about 300. Over 95% were killed in Iraq--a handful in Afghanistan.

I wanted to go back to get the name of the young man’s friend, but decided his private time with his lost friend was more important. I stayed away. I don’t know when he arrived or when he left, but I do know that he spent a long time today transfixed and grieving at the grave of his friend.

Today was his 20th birthday.

His 20th birthday.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Arlington National Cemetery

This is hallowed ground--the burial place of many tens of thousands of American who died for our country, for our freedom. I walked over Memorial Bridge. The majestic Lincoln Memorial sits at the D.C. end of the bridge.

Walking in to Virginia, the Potomac flowing beneath you, you’re approaching our nation’s most famous cemetery. Robert E. Lee’s home, with its neo-classical columns crowns a hill in front of you. Half way down the hill is the grave of John Kennedy and the eternal flame. Below that is a grand entrance, and immediately in front of you is the road. Statues and memorials line the road. Cars file by with traffic flowing on to a Virginia highway leading to the Pentagon less than a mile away. Other traffic brings tourists and family members to the cemetery.

After paying my respects to those who gave so much, I was picked up by a friend from graduate school and her husband. He is a retired army major. He served in Iraq during the initial invasion. Before that he served in the Gulf War and Afghanistan. He was all a military man should be: clean cut, solid, handsome, confident, calm.

We went to Georgetown and pondered the problems of the world.

Close-up of entrance in summer

The view back in to D.C.

Close-up of section 60, where I visited.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Arlington 2006

A caisson carrying the remains of Capt. Shane T. Adcock of the Army in October at Arlington as his widow, Jennifer, follows.

Never forget those who make the ultimate sacrifice. This image is a result of political decisions, yet it also transcends politics. This young man represents the best of our country. His loss is a tragedy.

During the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson brooded for hours, days, months, and the rest of his years on earth over the loss of life resulting from his policies. Many Johnson insiders and historians agree that at some point Johnson knew what a terrible mistake he had made by escalating the war in Vietnam.

Johnson stepped aside in 1968, as the quagmire of Vietnam became more apparent. But even LBJ found it difficult (or for whatever reason) did not change course in Vietnam. It took 5-7 more years and a different president (Nixon) to pull us out of there. Meanwhile fully one half of the American deaths in Vietnam came after Johnson left office. Will we learn from that history lesson?

Did you know that one of the main outcomes out of the Iraq War to date is the dramatic increase in the power of Iran and the reduction of American power and influence in the Middle East (because we're bogged down ineffectively in Iraq)?

Photo from The NY Times.

The Widow

Jennifer Adcock, left, widow of Captain Adcock, of Mechanicsville, Va. From The NY Times.

Sidney Dyer with her mother, Jodi, at Mr. Dyer’s burial. Mr. Dyer, 38, was from Cocoa Beach, Fla. From The NY Times.

Mourning our dead

Click on photo to enlarge, and note dates on headstones. Photo from the NY Times.

Sergeant Walsh of Cuyahoga Falls

Sergeant Walsh, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was wounded in Iraq and later died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. From the NY Times.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Congresswoman-elect Gabrielle Giffords

The sweet taste of victory

On election night I was at the headquarters of Gabrielle Giffords. Gabby executed a flawless campaign and handily won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 36.

I was the creator and have been the watchdog for her biographical entry in Wikipedia which you can read at

Wikipedia: Giffords biographical article.

I remain the principal author of this, though anyone can edit it. It's been an interesting experience for me. I created the article in June. In mid-July a young Australian and avid Wikipedian nominated it for deletion. After ten days of debate, the administrators at Wikipedia chose to keep it.

Since then a few things have happened that I found noteworthy.

Somebody thought it was important to note Giffords religion. This was interesting to me because I didn't know what her religion was, and I don't see how it is relevant for us to know the religion of our politicians. I recognize many don't share this view.

Another Wiki/Giffords issue: since her election this week, various people have called her Congressman, Senator, Junior Senator, and U.S. Representative. I keep editing these away. She is Congresswoman-elect, or U.S. Representative-elect. Only I would get stuck on such things. Well, apparently others get hung up on them too.

; )

Finally, there is an edit war going on regarding her positions on immigration reform. Nativists (most of whom strongly supported her Republican opponent) insist on calling Giffords's and Bush's idea on immigration reform "amnesty." The rest of us like to think of it as "immigration reform." I've stayed out of this one, but people keep changing the terms, back and forth, and back and . . .

I had the honor of speaking with Gabby briefly on election night. It takes an amazing person to do what she has done and to do it with such dignity and grace.

In addition to the Wiki article I raised somewhere between $1,500 and about $2,300 for her. This is not much in the broader scheme of things, but everything helps. Thanks to mis amigos that helped! We have to do this if we want to send our people to Washington. Like it or not, it takes money to run a campaign.

It's been a priveledge to have had the chance to get to know Gabby this year, to support her, and to help see her off to Washington!

I give Gabby a large amount of credit for my conversion to becoming a Democrat. Somehow it felt safe. It's strange how deeply rooted our politics can be. My Republican roots stopped feeding me by 1996 or so, I realized it and considered myself primarily an independent from that point on. My vote for Kerry in 2004 was difficult, I didn't like him but thought he was the best choice. People like Gabby and other friends in Arizona have allowed me to feel good about becoming a Democrat.

Thanks, and go Gabby!