I’ve been watching my parents salute the flag my entire life.
For years, I’ve attended promotions and graduations and retirements and other ceremonies, and there they were. In formation and in uniform. I am thoroughly accustomed to thinking of my parents this way, as soldiers. It has been my reality since my earliest memories.
But this was different.
We were in Washington D.C. as a family, for Gold Star Mother’s Day. We were at Arlington National Cemetery — perhaps the most meaningful, sobering place I’ve ever been. We were there to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, on behalf of the American Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families everywhere.
That day, in that moment — my parents were not retired soldiers. They were not the people my husband respectfully calls “The Sergeant Major” and “The Chief”. As Taps played, they were saluting — as civilians. Standing there in Arlington, at the foot of the Tomb of the Unknowns, shoulder to shoulder with The Chief of Staff of the Army — they were Tom Martin‘s Mom and Dad.
My sisters and I were a few strides behind them, and arguably had the best view of all. From where we stood near the top of the stairs, we could look out over the tomb and see glimpses of the city across the Potomac.
As routine as some of the pomp and circumstance can be, there’s nothing routine for me about Taps. It is the heaviest, most emotional collection of notes in music. I’m always grateful it’s not tradition to sing the words – I know I couldn’t.
The wreath-laying ceremony was brief but powerful, and for three women who have spent a lifetime as civilian spectators at such events, I think we were all honored to be part of this one. It was the culmination of a weekend of events held by and for Gold Star Families like ours.
The evening before, we had all gathered for a banquet — dinner, entertainment (by the USO Show Troupe!), and visiting with family and friends who are typically spread out across the world. Several of Tom’s guys from his deployment to Iraq and classmates from West Point were able to be there — and it meant so much to share the weekend with them.
This photo of the family is one of several from the evening you can find on the Foundation Facebook page. It doesn’t happen often so when we’re (almost!) all together in one place — we take a buncha pictures.
As we all headed back to our corners of the world Sunday afternoon, my Dad wrote and shared this reflection:
As we prepare to leave Washington, DC today I am thinking about this amazing place of such contrasts. The majestic monuments of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln along with all of the smaller statues and memorials, many to people or places most of us have never heard of. (How did we live without Google?). The intensity and energy of the thousands heading to work, along with tourists, a few hundred thousand extra this weekend for the opening of the newest part of the Smithsonian, the museum of African American History. But just a short distance away is Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of our fallen. As I visited the graves of the sons and daughters of so many of our friends in section 60, visiting with their parents, and listening again to the stories of their children, I was struck by the difference a mile or two can make in the activities of the people that come to this city. At Arlington there is a quiet that is hard to describe. People respectfully visit the graves of those they know, and those they have never met. They get it. The rows and rows get to you. Candy and I had the honor of laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown and everyone there was so respectful of that solemn place. It renews my faith in our great nation that there is a collective memory and appreciation for all of those that have fought and died to keep the American Dream alive. We are not a perfect country by far, but we are the best the world has to offer.
I could never say it better than that.
I’m grateful for the role models my parents have been for me as an American and as a patriot. Colt was there for all of it that weekend, and I hope he remembers that moment in Arlington as I do. I hope I can model enough of the behavior I saw growing up — and, even if he never wears a uniform, I hope my civilian kiddo learns the power of a salute.