Steve Delgado is a Public Affairs non-commissioned officer assigned with the 56th Fighter Wing/PA, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. He is currently on a tour with the Air Force Public Affairs Agency.
I’ve had the opportunity to finish my military career with a three-month tour at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency in Arlington, Va. What a way to finish being located in the cradle of our country’s history. Within a 200 mile radius of Arlington, a myriad of events that built and maintained this country took place.
Profound events from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to Gen. Robert E. Lee signing the surrender paper at the Appomattox Court House to end the Civil War in 1865. The 89 years between the two events were filled with events whose historical effects are still being felt today. It would take many months to see and absorb all of the places where so much happened all of those years ago.
When I arrived here, I reaIized I would have a limited amount of time to see and absorb all of the sites in Washington and the surrounding area. However, there was one place that was a priority to visit. If I was told that I could visit only one place while I was here, it would be Arlington National Cemetery. I took the first weekend of August and made it happen.
The cemetery is filled with high profile points such as the eternal flame that marks the resting place of President John Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as the final resting place for career military personnel and their families. But, the essence of these sacred grounds are the thousands of graves of people who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, some of them as young as 18.
There were the graves of soldiers from the Civil War to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. August is a particularly special month because Aug. 14 marks the 64th anniversary of the end of World War II. As I looked at the headstones the names came alive. I began to wonder what each person was like—their favorite foods, music, movies and whether they had pets or engaged in sports and other activities such as camping and fishing.
What’s more, I thought of the sacrifice and anxiety so many of these Soldiers and in the wars of last century and this century Airmen experienced, suddenly finding themselves in a strange land in some cases thousands of miles from home. Their deaths left grieving families and friends behind. Each person buried there had their own unique story.
I recommend that if someone plans to visit Arlington National Cemetery to walk in and take your time. Get away from the noisy trolley cars and take the time to realize where you are at. I can guarantee that you will leave with a new appreciation of the profound deeds of so many people, and if you are a past or present member of the military, it will give you new sense of pride to belong to an organization with the proud heritage and tradition of the United States Military.