At Arlington, Families Feel Reality of Losses – Bush Addresses Mourners on Day Of Remembrances

By Michael Laris
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

For families mourning amid the white stone grave markers and the tiny American flags at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, loss was measured in quiet moments and small, aching gestures.

“That's him,” said Sally Soltes, pointing to a button pinned to her stroller. Her husband, Army Maj. Charles Robert Soltes Jr., was killed in Iraq in October, and his photo rested above the head of their 6-month-old son, Robert Harrison.

“We have a firsthand experience of what President Bush was talking about. Before, when people say you must fight for freedom, it's more of a cliche. In this time, right now, it's a reality,” Soltes said. “This little guy was born two months after my husband was killed. He never got to meet his dad.”

Bush had entered the grand stone amphitheater on the hill at Arlington shortly after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Soltes came from California with her three children.

“As we look across these acres, we begin to tally the cost of our freedom, and we count it a privilege to be citizens of the country served by so many brave men and women,” Bush said.

Yesterday, Melissa Givens was focused on an earlier set of official statements. President Bush on May 1, 2003, declared an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq, prompting celebration.

“I was watching it on TV, and I look out and there are two guys standing at the door. My thought was, ‘They said this war was over. . . . But they're here telling me my husband's not coming home,' ” Givens said. Her husband, Jesse, who drowned in a tank crash in Iraq, had asked to be buried at Arlington. She cried yesterday with the guilt of not doing so. Part of his ashes are in a vault in Springfield, Missouri, near his mother.

“The rest of him is in our living room, so he can always look out at us. He's on the closet. He wanted to be here. At the time, I was pregnant and couldn't travel and went with what I could,” she said.

Kenneth and Joyce Wentz thought of their son's birthdays.

“He joined the National Guard to go to college. He turned 21 on the airplane flying to Iraq,” Joyce Wentz said of her son, Cody Lee. The other troops from Williston, North Dakota, came home on Cody's 22nd birthday, his father said.

Cody wanted to play football and would lift weights during downtime. He could bench press nearly 500 pounds, his father said. He had signed up to build things, not search out bombs, his mother said.

“My son was a homebody, so sending him over to Iraq was way more than he could handle. I don't think they looked at that. They just needed soldiers,” Joyce Wentz said. “He said, ‘Mom, if you expect any of us home, don't, because we don't know what we're doing.' “

Cody, riding gunner, was killed instantly on a mission. His parents looked in his coffin. “He was wrapped with gauze on his face. We couldn't see him,” Joyce Wentz said.

“He was an angel,” his father said.

Bush was praised yesterday by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said just as President Lincoln saw “the smoke of the cannons rising from the Battle of Bull Run,” Bush “could see smoke rising from a different kind of battlefield — the Pentagon in flames” and has “offered the hope of a new birth of freedom.”

For the loved ones of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, “today is a day of last letters and fresh tears,” said Bush, who read from the final correspondence of several soldiers. Because of their courage, Bush said, “two terror regimes are gone forever.”

Cameron Cozzens, 36, of Stafford, an Army officer who attended the ceremony with his wife and three children, is due to leave for Iraq in July.

“Part of me wants to go, because I feel that's where I should be,” he said. “The other half — you're always a little anxious. You don't like to leave your family.”


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