The Homecoming

It was a beautiful day for a funeral. The last of the cherry blossoms drifted on a cool breeze, which carried the scent of cut grass and wet stone over Arlington National Cemetery. Somewhere in the distance, the early morning mowing subsided, soon to be overtaken by the all- day crack of rifles, the rattle of horse- drawn caissons, and the mournful sound of Taps floating among the tombstones.

Along Eisenhower Drive, as far as the eye could see, the grave markers formed into bone- white brigades, climbed from the flats of the Potomac River and scattered over the green Virginia hills in perfect order. They reached Arlington’s highest point, where they encircled an old cream- colored mansion with thick columns and commanding views of the cemetery, the river, and the city beyond. The mansion’s flag, just lowered to half- staff, signaled that it was time to start another day of funerals, which would add more than twenty new conscripts to Arlington’s army of the dead, now more than 300,000 strong.

This day at Arlington— May 10, 2005— would be much like any other, with funerals taking place from morning until evening. Most of the ceremonies would be small affairs honoring the aging veterans of World War II and Vietnam.

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