In honor of this weekend, a former shipmate and respected mentor sent me a note that he authorized me to share. It’s a good one.
In May of 2001, I was serving on the Navy Staff and, in addition to my regular duties, was part of the rotation of Navy Captains on call for special events. As luck would have it, my number came up to be part of the Navy contingent at the Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery on May 28th, 2001.
I thought to myself “I could just cry -once again, Navy ruins a weekend with my family.” While others enjoyed baseball, barbecues and beer – I’d be decked out in Service Dress White as a potted palm – but, as all good Sailors do, I did my duty and got home by early afternoon – in plenty of time to enjoy the Holiday.
On September 11, 2001, my best friend in the Navy, Captain Gerald DeConto, died in the Navy Command Center when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. I had left the Command Center in Gerry’s capable hands just 9 minutes before impact – to go to a meeting I didn’t want to go to.
On November 2, 2001, I escorted Gerry’s remains to the Naval Academy Chapel (pocketing his USNA Class of ’77 ring and his Seiko “Yoko Special” wristwatch, which were unceremoniously hanging off a coffin handle in a Ziploc marked “FBI Forensic Evidence”).
Following the service, I escorted Gerry to Arlington National Cemetery, stood by his coffin as his amazing family paid tribute, and then marched in Full Dress Blues ahead of the dray horses pulling the Lincoln Caisson bearing Gerry from the Fort Myer Chapel to the grave site.
After the Service, I silently handed the ring and watch to Gerry’s brother who said to me ” It’s OK if you cry.” To which I replied “No, it’s not OK for me to cry, I’m on duty.”
This weekend is the tenth Anniversary of doing my duty at Arlington and I do hope that all your readers will take a moment to visit their local Veteran’s Cemetery and decorate the graves of those who delivered up honor, in the true spirit of the proclamation establishing this event:
HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of
JOHN A. LOGAN,