ARLINGTON, Va. — Like soldiers in formation, neat rows of snow-white stones pour over the lush green hills at Arlington National Cemetery, sanitized reminders of the death toll from all of America's wars.
Just as they have done with veterans from the Revolutionary War to the first Persian Gulf War, these sacred hills are now welcoming their first casualties from the nation's current conflict in Iraq.
On Thursday, Captain Russell B. Rippetoe, 27, an Army Ranger killed when a car bomb exploded at an Iraqi checkpoint, was the first U.S. military casualty from the Iraq war buried there.
Marine Second Lieutenant Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., 31, who was one of nine Americans killed in an ambush outside the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, will be buried in a private ceremony Monday.
With the Pentagon warning that fierce fighting remains for troops in Iraq, others likely will join Rippetoe, Pokorney and the more than 285,000 veterans and their family members buried at the national cemetery.
Opened by the Union during the Civil War, on land seized from Confederate General Robert E. Lee, it was a poor man's burial ground, the place soldiers ended up when their families couldn't afford to bring them home, or when they were too badly mutilated to be identified.
Today, it is hallowed ground, so sought after as a final resting place that an average of 25 people are buried here each weekday.
With the war in Iraq more than three weeks old, at least 109 American soldiers have been killed, and 10 are listed as missing.
Two other soldiers killed in Iraq are scheduled to be buried at Arlington on Thursday.
Marine Lance Corporal Patrick R. Nixon, 21, was killed outside of Nasiriyah.
Air Force Major Gregory Stone, 40, died after a U.S. Army Sergeant was suspected of rolling a grenade into Stone's command tent.
“If a loved one is buried here, his or her sacrifice will never be forgotten. When you come in here and see the quarter million stones, you can't help but remember that . . . they're woven into the fabric of American history,” Tom Sherlock, the cemetery's historian, said.
Some were killed in their teens and early 20s, battlefield casualties from Bull Run to Khe Sanh.
Every war is represented, from the 10 Revolutionary War veterans moved here at the turn of the 20th century to those killed in the ongoing war against terrorism.
There are famous soldiers such as John F. Kennedy, a Navy Lieutenant turned President, alongside rank-and-file grunts and unidentified warriors.
The lucky ones lived to tell near-miss stories and have grandchildren listen to taps being sounded at their funerals.
Army Lieutneant Colonel Eugene Marder was one of them, an infantryman who survived an injury on Hill 303 at the start of the Korean War. He died at 69 a decade ago, buried a Purple Heart winner with full military honors.
His wife, Margaret Marder, comes to visit every now and again, passing his fellow veterans from Vietnam or the Gulf War on the way to her husband's grave.
“It just seemed suitable to bury him here,” among heroes, she said during a recent visit. “It is a very marvelous collection of graves.”
From his headstone, in plain sight stands the cold facade of the Pentagon, where senior officers are making life-and-death decisions.
From there, the officers can witness an enduring reminder that the price of war can be measured in lives lost: the sweeping green hills of Arlington National Cemetery, dotted by white.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard