Several months ago I was walking around Arlington Cemetery shortly before sunset and I saw a beautiful sight I can never forget.
As a last minute decision, I had taken the overnight bus from Raleigh, NC, where I was visiting friends and arrived early on a Saturday morning ready to meet the nine flights of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans about to arrive at the WWII Memorial.
Cleaning up and leaving the bus station around 6 am, I started the two and a half mile walk to the WWII Memorial. It was a rainy and gloomy morning. I’m sure Uber could have done the job as well as my feet, but I couldn’t resist the idea of walking around D.C. in the wee hours of the morning when there was not a car in sight, and the only ones on the streets were the trash-man and a periodic runner. “Peaceful” and “D.C.” are two words that do not go together… but that morning they did.
From half-past 8 in the morning to a little after 4 in the afternoon, Honor Flights arrived from all over the country: Oregon, Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, and more. As Honor Flight days always are, it was an A+ day. In fact it was better than A+. The last few weeks had been pretty rough with the loss of a few very dear friends and an unusually stressful schedule. So being at the Memorial with my Honor Flight friends was like a soothing and reinvigorating balm.
Each Flight has it’s State’s personality, and I love it. Some are more reserved and quiet, while others are boisterous and want to make sure all of D.C. knows they are having a swell time. Tennessee came full of deep Southern drawls. Wisconsin was definitely full of Cheese. But for all the cultural differences, they all had at least one thing in common: they were true-blue Americans who loved their country.
During a lull in the flights, I walked over to the Vietnam Wall. The first time I visited the wall I was greatly moved by the thousands and thousands of names carved into a beautiful black wall. Scattered up and down the entire memorial were dozens of people from many different countries, taking etchings of these names and remembering the men who died during the Vietnam War. Among our group was a number of Nam Vets. To watch their faces was a priceless memory. There were many tears shed and beautiful memories recalled. It was absolutely touching.
Today's visit to the Vietnam Wall was no less touching, but this time I had come to remember a specific person, Don Farris. Don flew choppers in Vietnam and was a real-life Santa if ever there was one. In the few years we’d known him through Honor Flight, he’d quite wrapped his way around our hearts. Then, a short month before this visit to D.C., he suddenly passed away. This visit to the Wall was for him.
Late that afternoon, the last flight departed the WWII Memorial. It had already been a full day, but since I still had a couple of hours before my bus left, I decided to go visit a few old friends.
And this is how I found myself wandering around one of my favorite places in D.C.- Arlington National Cemetery. You’ll hardly find a more beautiful and peaceful place for quiet contemplation than this final resting place for America’s heroes; especially at sunset when the crowds have gone (I must have looked a sight walking through the cemetery wearing a 1940s dress, flip flops (no more heels for me!), a backpack, and carrying a dozen yellow roses, but thankfully there was no one around to tell me).
The roses I had brought were for a couple of veteran friends I knew were buried there, specifically for one handsome 4th Division D-Day vet who had forever left an impact on our hearts with the whimsical tunes he played on the harmonica, his descriptive and moving stories from the war, and his deep and enduring love for his country. We’d communicated regularly through mail, and he was like family. But then one day, the letters stopped. I never got to say goodbye to him, and that was hard. When I picked out the roses that morning, I made sure they were yellow. We’d given him roses the first time we met him, and the next time, he had played “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for us.
It was good to see his grave, and it was good to say goodbye, “Until we meet again.”
Leaving Mr. Cason, I walked towards the entrance of the cemetery. It was a bit of a distance, so it gave me time to process the day. I turned down one of the avenues, happened to glance over to the other side of the road, and saw a touching sight. A few graves over from a large oak tree was an elderly man sitting on a fold-up chair in front of one the the clean, white graves. Next to this grave was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The sun was close to setting, and all the surrounding graves were covered in that warm, comforting glow.
I stood there for several minutes watching him. He just sat there. Maybe saying a few words. Maybe sitting in silence. Whatever the case, his devotion for the beloved passed one was obvious. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
Just as he stood up and started to pack his chair, I had a sudden urge to go talk to him. Walking up, I timidly said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but notice you… may I give you a rose?” He turned around and smiled quietly. I glanced at the grave and noticed it was a lady’s name. “Is this your wife?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said in a shaky voice. “We were married 59 years.” His eyes started to fill. Seeing this, all of the emotions of the day, the Honor Flights, the veterans, thinking about our friend Don, the dear one I had just said goodbye too, and now this storybook picture of love… it suddenly broke, and I burst into tears. “Please take a rose for her.” I said. He smiled gratefully and put the rose in the bouquet by the grave.
“Are you visiting a family member?” he asked kindly.
“Just an old friend I haven’t seen in a while.” I told him.
“Well thank you for the rose,” he said, still teary.
“No, thank you!” I exclaimed.
I am never going to forget this moment. I didn't learn a lot about the man I met in Arlington, as we only talked for a few minutes, but it was enough. “Until death do us part,” is what they say, but it was evident that here, even death couldn’t stop his love.
When you step outside of your home, you never know who you are going to meet. You never know if you are going to have a regular hum-drum day or, like this day, meet a person with a story that touches you to the core. Sometimes I wonder how many little stories like this I have missed, or even passed up unwittingly. It's definitely an incentive to stop and talk to more people. Thank you, dear stranger, for showing me a picture of true love.