Arlington National Cemetery.
If you’ve ever seen it, it is both beautiful and startling. Standing as they would in formation, at attention, perhaps in a parade or pass in review, the small white headstones are identical in look. To see a difference you have to look at each one, since each has its individual name and dates. Individuals, yet uniform. Straight, one blending in with the others, as if they are just part of a larger group, they mark lives given. Not taken, but given. There is a difference.
After George Washington chose not to run for a third term as president, and retired to Mount Vernon, he was nominated by John Adams (with Senate confirmation) to be Commander of the Armies of the United States as Lieutenant General. This was because difficulties with France led them to anticipate, war, which thankfully didn’t come. When he had led troops in the revolution, there was no United States officially, only states in rebellion to England. Thus, he was the first in nearly everything he did.
Washington died with the idea that if we were attacked, he would come out of a third retirement to take the field again.
After news of his death in December 1799, part of the announcement in the House of Representatives showed the sense of most of the country.
“The melancholy event which was yesterday announced with doubt, has been rendered but too certain. Our Washington is no more! The hero, the patriot, and the sage of America; — the man on whom, in times of danger, every eye was turned, and all hopes were placed, — lives now only in his own great actions, and in the hearts of an affectionate and afflicted people.” Washington died with the idea that if we were attacked, he would come out of a third retirement to take the field again.
This was an accurate sentiment for a great citizen and soldier. Yet, each family regards their own son or daughter with the same regard within the family, neighborhood, and community. Like the monument that bears Washington’s name, those small markers and graves throughout the country and on foreign soil, draw the same sorrow and honor. It’s what we do. We should always do it.