Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How We Remember

MUSEday Tuesday

Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery

I visited Arlington National Cemetery as a teenager, and still remember how awestruck I was by its solemn beauty and its vastness. Heroes slept there, I knew, but they reposed at a remove. My visits since then to other veterans' cemeteries have been similar, except when I'm at the graves of loved ones whose lives overlapped mine. Then, my visits are quiet, largely solitary experiences, confined to the draping of a hand-sewn lei or the positioning of flowers, and accompanied by memories and tears.  

Front Cover: SECTION 60: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, courtesy Bloomsbury PublishingThese moments all have their place, but they are so very different from what Robert M. Poole describes as the everyday events at Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where a number of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest, intermingled with veterans of earlier conflicts. 

With eloquence and grace, Poole invites us to meet some of the many pulsing hearts that make Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery live on.

Family members and friends visit the graves of these veterans, leaving flowers, keepsakes, and mementoes, and drawing comfort in the bittersweet process of revisiting everyday memories as well as the ache of recalling how their loved ones died.

Somehow, those left behind -- whether civilians or veterans, whatever the year their loved ones passed -- have built a community. Poole touches on this by showing interrelationships, such as Vietnam veterans "being there" for those mourning more recent losses.

With compassion and respect, he also explores the toll of such combat-related issues as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other challenges that active-duty servicepeople and veterans both confront. Notably, neither he nor his military and civilian sources shies from such painful subjects, including suicide.

Reading stories like those shared here can be extremely emotional, but it is necessary.... Necessary for understanding fear and bravery, necessary for understanding what makes a person willing to die for a comrade or a principle, and necessary for working through grief, whether immediate or at a distance.

"No man is an island," philosopher John Donne wrote four centuries ago, "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Those at rest in Section 60 and those who keep their memories alive live this philosophy. Daily.

As one whose relatives sleep at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and other veterans' cemeteries, I admire the people who have worked to keep the memories of their loved ones so tangible and visible. I hope their grace and generosity in sharing their stories starts a groundswell of everyday remembrance that spreads nationwide.

ARC courtesy Amazon Vine; cover image courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing


by Robert M. Poole
Bloomsbury Publishing
Released Oct. 21, 2014

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