We visited Arlington Cemetery on a crisp, handsome fall morning, a crowded Saturday following the somber Veteran’s Day ceremonies. While the visit itself was solemn, the meaning of all those white headstones poised so starkly against the rolling emerald hills and fiery foliage didn’t hit me until much later that evening.
Personally, I have no “skin” in the game as they say. I’ve never served and have no close relatives or friends in active service. My father retired from the Army after 20 years service with active duty in Korea and my siblings were raised as Army brats. But, by the time I was born, he was seven-years retired and deep into a new career.
When he passed last year, he was – as he wished – buried with full military honors and a 21-gun salute. What struck me was that he could’ve legally been buried in the manicured lawns of Arlington, but that wasn’t in line with my dad’s personality. He almost never discussed his military career with me. Other than a few sparse discussions about characters he remembered, or maybe a story exaggerated as part of a lesson plan, I knew only that he was still haunted at night by horrors he’d seen.
It’s a testament to my father that I grew up, with little access to military ways, and still maintained a healthy respect for those individuals who volunteer (remember, we still have a wholly volunteer armed service) to serve the country they love, for whatever personal reasons they have.
Maybe it was his love of country that came flooding back to me that evening, when I got teary-eyed discussing the political goings-on of the day or maybe it was the 300,000 individuals buried in Arlington welling up in my eyes as I tried in vain to express my confidence in America.
Like all children, you like to push aside your parent’s political views, and believe that their ideals aren’t yours. But, I must say that I finally see America through the red white and blue tinted glasses of my dad. I see the opportunity it, through capitalism and free trade, offers its citizens, immigrants and even those undocumented within its borders. In fact, Vic and I never could’ve gone on this trip without Wall Street contributing to my investments, or the housing boom that allowed me to sell two houses for substantial profits in the last ten years.
And, I guess it frustrates me to see that people really believe they’d have the opportunity they have today, anywhere else; that the prosperity they enjoy today, and perhaps expect today, would be possible in any other society.
This prosperity is attributable not to our politicians, but to the millions who have spent time fighting abroad to ensure that we remain free to decide our own fate. It’s the soldiers, not to our businessmen, who have allowed us to seek out financial opportunity here and abroad. It’s the young men and women who served our country that allow me to enjoy this trip, read biased news reports and even protest openly no matter how frivolous or misguided I may be.
In other words, Arlington Cemetery, though my father isn’t buried there, gave me a chance to thank the soldiers and my dad for the opportunities they gave me.