The Ghosts of Arlington

February 23, 2001

by Lieutenant S. S. Brown

My driver was visibly nervous. Since I usually have that affect on people, I didn’t give it a second thought. Even though I was on my best behavior that day, the poor driver was sweating bullets by the time we got to the admin building at Arlington National Cemetery. By the time I returned to the car a few short minutes later, the poor driver was trembling so badly, I was afraid he was going to go into convulsions. I tried to put the driver at ease and learn the cause of his anxiety, to no avail. As time progressed, he became increasingly agitated.

When I finished the funeral and got back into the car, slowly he turned. With an expression on his face as if he’d actually seen one, the driver looked me straight in the eye and said, with trepidation, “THEY’VE GOT GHOSTS IN THIS CEMETERY!” Well I roared! That was a good thing: puzzled by my reaction, the driver’s fear dissolved in a flash. “Listen,” I said, “I’ve been here two years now and believe you me, the spookiest things I’ve seen in this place are living, breathing, walking, talking, flesh and blood. They’re called ‘tourists!’ Besides, no ghost here’s bold enough to mess with Fr. Brown!” Knowing my reputation, the driver couldn’t argue with that.

In spite of never having personally seen a ghost in the cemetery, I do often get goose bumps when I’m there. I’m frequently startled or surprised, like when my eye catches a familiar name or memorable date chiseled into a granite headstone.

Recently, for example, after I offered my final condolences to the next of kin at one funeral, while heading back to my car, I bumped smack-dab into this headstone. Reading “Edmund Sixtus Muskie,” I suddenly found myself awash in memories of public events and history surrounding this naval officer, senator, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate.

Yet of all the sections in Arlington, #59 is where I get goose bumps most often. Marines killed in the Beirut bombing are buried there. When I perform funerals standing amidst their headstones and walking between their graves, a certain thought fills my brain, a peculiar feeling cuts to the center of my core: and I remember, that of all the places I’ve trod on the face of this earth, few are more sacred. Of all the sections in Arlington, it’s when I’m at #59 when the words of the priest and prophet Ezekiel most frequently come to mind:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit and set me down in the midst of the valley. And it was full of bones. Then he said to me, ‘son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I am going to open your graves and raise you up, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. I will put my spirit within you and you shall live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will realize that I, Yahweh, have made a promise that I will keep'” (cf. Ezek 37:1-14).

Recently, having come from section 59 with Ezekiel’s oracle of hope ringing in my ears, I found myself not only writing my current installment for the Henderson Hall Gazette, but found myself celebrating the feast of a couple of saints from my own faith tradition, as well. Addressing God on that day, I prayed: “You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of your unchanging love. They inspire us by their heroic lives and help us by their constant prayers.” Through Ezekiel’s oracle, God’s promise of return to the exiled Israelites and restoration of life to the dead holds a future of hope. As that prayer from my Church reflects, we have the past to inspire us, as well.

Returning to Henderson Hall from section 59, away from all those creatures called “tourists” and standing safely once again amidst creatures called “Devil Dogs,” I’m edified that God has seen fit, for over two-hundred-twenty-five years, to renew the Corps by raising up for us men and women, generous in spirit, seeking to serve God and Country as Marines. I hope that the Marine Corps of today will be a consolation and comfort for citizens today. I hope that Marines today will be beacons for those of tomorrow. I hope, especially, that God bless and sustain Marine recruiters for their part in ensuring that the Corps continues to be renewed in every age.

From those who join-up in response to a call, to those who wind-up in the military almost by accident, let there be no doubt that God works in the vagaries and vicissitudes of our lives. And to help find God in the vagaries and vicissitudes of life we have “A Marine’s Prayer”:

Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of thy presence and obedient to thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones, and thee without shame or fear. Protect my family. Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance. Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Make me considerate of those committed to my leadership. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold. If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith. If I am tempted, make me strong to resist. If I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again. Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer. Amen. Semper Fidelis.

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