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Christmas in Arlington: Sadness of sacrifice
Tom Sileo's op-ed column, The Unknown Soldiers: Christmas at Arlington

Date published: 1/3/2013


--There's no place like Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, especially on Christmas morning.

Visiting the hallowed ground, where many heroes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are laid to rest, is an experience filled with heartbreak. But because of the enormous accomplishments of the brave men and women buried there, Section 60 is also one of the most authentic, inspiring places that any American could visit.

After a Christmas Eve mixture of light snow, sleet, and rain, Dec. 25 was a glorious morning in the nation's capital. The winter sun, more forgiving than the brutal desert heat many of our heroes have endured in Afghanistan and Iraq, glistened off the magnificent white headstones that mark this young generation's devotion to freedom.

Amid the majestic setting, however, is the aforementioned sadness. Soon after arriving at Section 60, I saw a little boy standing with a woman, presumably his mother, at the grave of a fallen hero.

"Hi, Papa," the child said.

While paying my respects to warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice, including several whose stories have appeared in this column, I looked over again at the young boy and his mom.

Before they left the cemetery, the boy threw his arms around the headstone in front of him. He then unleashed a bear hug that would have undoubtedly made his papa smile.

"Goodbye," the child said before he and his mom slowly walked away.

Whenever I visit Section 60, there are always more graves than my previous trip. It's a tragic, pointed reminder that the conflict launched after Sept. 11, 2001, continues to this very day.

Not far from the last row of the newest temporary grave markers was a young woman, probably in her 20s, sitting in silence on a blanket. She was staring at the name of someone she clearly cared about, probably thinking about what was and what could have been. In her hand was a letter, which she clutched and held close to heart.

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